RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Friday.
Since the president fired the director of the FBI, James Comey, three days ago now. We`ve now got multiple reports that the FBI`s investigation of the Russia issue, the Russian attack on the presidential election last year and the question of whether or not the Trump campaign was involved in it somehow, we now have multiple reports that at the time the FBI director was fired by the president, that FBI investigation into the Trump Russia issue was expanding and accelerating, and the director himself was involved in the expansion and acceleration of it.
"The New York Times" was first to report that in the days before he was fired, Director Jim Comey reportedly requested additional resources for the Trump Russia investigation. Basically, we don`t know exactly what kind of resources he was asking for, if there was money or manpower or other FBI resources. But, basically, he wanted to put more firepower into that investigation.
Thereafter, "The Wall Street Journal" reported that James Comey had accelerated his own personal pace of work on the investigation. He`d previously been briefed weekly on the progress of the Trump-Russia investigations. In a couple of weeks before he was fired though, according to "The Wall Street Journal", James Comey had started taking daily briefings on that investigation.
But then he was fired, with the president now admitting that what he was thinking about when he fired James Comey was that darn Russia investigation that fake Russia investigation and how much he wants it to go away.
Well, now, that the FBI director has been fired, now that we have crossed this Rubicon as a country where the president is under active FBI investigation on incredibly serious counterintelligence charges and he has fired the head of the FBI in the middle of that FBI investigation, specifically because he said he was unhappy with that investigation. Now that we have crossed that previously unthinkable Rubicon, as a country, you know, the world didn`t end. We still got to do stuff. We`ve still got to figure out how to make the most of what we`ve got in terms of our democracy and the rule of law and the institutions that make us the country that we are.
And so, now, in the wake of the FBI director`s firing, we don`t know, but there`s obviously widespread national concern about what`s going to happen to those FBI investigations.
Now, longtime observers of the FBI, former FBI agents, the new acting director of the FBI who was former deputy to James Comey, they all say that the Trump-Russia investigations at the FBI will continue. They can`t be stopped. Nothing can stop or slow down those investigators. Nothing can intimidate them out of doing their work.
And that sounds awesome as a pep talk, but, of course, we don`t know that for sure, right? We`ve never been in this position before. We don`t know what`s going to happen to those investigations.
Late tonight, the news cross that there are four candidates the administration is now considering to be the new director of the FBI replacing James Comey. One of them is the acting director, Andrew McCabe.
One of them is Alice Fisher. She was head of the criminal division at the Justice Department under George W. Bush. There is a -- she`s very accomplished lawyer, very well-respected lawyer. There is some controversy from her time in the George W. Bush administration because of her connections to the prison at Guantanamo and two interrogations at the prison at Guantanamo.
Another candidate is reportedly Judge Michael Garcia. He`s an appeals court judge in New York state. He`s also a former federal prosecutor and a former INS commissioner from the George W. Bush era.
That`s one, two, three, McCabe, Alice Fisher, Judge Garcia. And then the fourth candidate who is reportedly being considered to run the FBI is Senator John Cornyn of Texas, which is hilarious.
And it`s not hilarious because John Cornyn is inherently funny. Obviously, he`s a very serious man. I say it`s hilarious because -- I mean, the White House now admits, right, and the president now admits that the president fired Jim Comey because of the Russian investigation.
This so far has been John Cornyn`s public stance on why he believes Jim Comey was fired by the president, quote: I`ve heard what I think is a phony narrative that he did this somehow to squash the investigation into Russia, which I don`t believe there`s any evidence of.
It would be funny, it would be a laugh-out-loud moment if the White House tried to install Senator John Cornyn at the head of the FBI to replace Jim Comey given that the president basically freely admits now that yes the reason he fired Jim Comey is in fact that Russia investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, what did Cornyn say about that? I`ve heard what I think is a phony narrative that he did this to somehow squashed the investigation into Russia, I don`t believe there`s any evidence of that. Other than the president thing that`s why he did it.
So, we will see who the White House puts forward to be the new director of the FBI. Reportedly, those interviews for the position will start tomorrow. They will start on Saturday. Those four candidates will be interviewing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and with Rod Rosenstein, who is Jeff Sessions` deputy at the Department of Justice. Those were the two people who at least on paper provided the pretextual explanation for why James Comey had to be fired, a pretextual explanation concerning Hillary Clinton`s emails that later was essentially completely undermined, trashed and denied by the president who insists it was his decision to fire James Comey because he was thinking about that fake Trump Russian investigation.
So, a pressing question here now, now that Director Comey has been fired is what is going to happen to the active Trump Russia investigations at the FBI in the wake of that firing, right? Those questions are made all the more pressing by the revelations over the course of this week that the FBI investigations into the Trump-Russia scandal we`re expanding and accelerating at the time that Jim Comey was fired. Well, now, because it`s Friday night, now, there`s new news tonight out of Washington about the expansion and apparent acceleration of another part of the investigation, not the part happening in the FBI, which we already know was expanding and accelerating, the news we`ve got tonight is about the part of the investigation that is happening in the United States Senate.
One of the other things we learned this week about the Trump Russia investigation is that it appears to be focusing more and more on following the money, including the president`s own finances and the president`s own business history.
On Monday, the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, was asked whether he`d seen any evidence that concerned him about Trump business ties in Russia, Director Clapper responded that he couldn`t answer that question in an open session because it touched on ongoing investigations. Hmm.
On Tuesday, we learned that grand jury subpoenas had been sent out by the U.S. -- by U.S. attorney`s office in Virginia to business associates, to people financially tied to former national security adviser Mike Flynn. In that same "Wall Street Journal" report this week that included the revelation that Director Comey had started to get briefed daily on the Trump-Russia investigation instead of weekly, leading up to the day when he was fired.
"The Journal" also noted in that article by Shane Harris and Carol Lee that investigators were getting increasingly focused on, quote, Trump`s business dealings. Quote, "Investigators are interested in companies that have done business with Mr. Trump or have connections with him that could include businesses associated with members of Mr. Trump`s family.
So, we knew that heading into tonight, there was this increasing turn toward business interest and following the money in the Trump Russia investigation. But, now, tonight a new scoop again out of "The Wall Street Journal", again reporter Shane Harris and Carol Lee, and it is about something called the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which is an awkward acronym but it is part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
This unit was created in 1990 basically as an anti-money laundering enforcement agency. After 9/11, its power was boosted, controversially, according to some people, in part by the Patriot Act. After 9/11, this was the unit at the Treasury that went hard and fast after the financing of al- Qaeda. All over the world, they tracked and disrupted formal and informal funding streams that were supporting al-Qaeda not just in Afghanistan and Pakistan but everywhere al-Qaeda operated.
So, this is a powerful capable technically-minded investigatory agency that tracks money laundering and they`ve got a pretty fearsome reputation and they`ve got a worldwide remit.
And the story that just broken "The Wall Street Journal" tonight is that this unit, this enforcement unit at the Treasury, these money-laundering cops basically have decided to hand over what they know to the Trump-Russia investigation. Quote: a Treasury Department unit that specializes in combating money laundering will share financial records with an expanding Senate probe into possible ties between Russia and President Donald Trump and his associates. "The Wall Street Journal" tonight citing people familiar with the matter as their sources.
These people familiar with the matter did not tell "The Wall Street Journal" specifically the nature of these records that Treasury is going to hand over the Senate intelligence committee. But here`s the quote from this article that like jumps out of the page and starts pointing at itself to make you pay attention. This is obviously written very carefully.
I don`t know exactly what this means but this is how the "Wall Street Journal" tonight is characterizing what`s being handed over, what these records are that are being handed over from the money laundering cops at the Treasury Department to the Senate intelligence investigation of Trump- Russia. This is how they describe the records they`re handing over.
Quote: One person said that without these records the committee would not be able to reach a conclusion on whether there was collusion between Trump associates and Russia during last year`s campaign.
Without these records, you can`t reach a conclusion on whether there was collusion? What does that mean? That sounds like a big deal, I don`t know what that means.
So, when the FBI director got fired, we now know the FBI investigation into Trump and Russia was getting faster and getting bigger. We do not know what happens to the FBI investigations now that they fired that director we`ve never had that happen before as a country, we`ll see. But it`s not the only investigations, right? It`s not just the FBI. The Senate intelligence investigation into Trump and Russia also appears to be expanding as well.
And if tonight`s "Wall Street Journal" reporting is correct, the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation they`re about to get their hands on whatever records may have been obtained by the Treasury Department`s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and we don`t know what those records are.
What`s the quote again? But, quote, without them, the committee wouldn`t be able to reach a conclusion on whether there was collusion between Trump and Russia.
Now, "Wall Street Journal" tonight gives us two more pieces that sort of help us understand where this thing is that overall and what this new information could mean. Quote: Senate intelligence panels request for these records was made because investigators reviewing U.S. intelligence reports about Russian interference in the election came across information that led them to inquire about Mr. Trump`s business ties. Oh really?
Quote: A former senior U.S. official indicated that federal investigators are examining whether Russian investments in any of Mr. Trump`s properties or business ventures could be traced back to Russian government sources, including Russian officials who might own banks that were lending money to Mr. Trump.
So, this is new, and this finally starts to explain, finally puts a little meat on the bones in terms of what we have been hearing over the last few days, right? Over the last few days, two things have happened. One, absolute meltdown in Washington including firing the FBI director with no reasonable explanation for why they did it. So, freaked out in the White House. That`s happened in the last few days.
And in the last few days, simultaneously, we have and hearing more and more increasingly clear indications that they`re following the money, that they`re specifically following Trump`s money. So, "Wall Street Journal" notes tonight in this scoop, quote, this marks an escalation for the committee`s probe from its original focus on intelligence reports that were used to conclude that Russia had meddled in the 2016 elections.
Now, I`ll tell you, we`re doing reporting on this and trying to pull together pieces of the story over the last couple of days and weeks and months. We have heard this repeatedly from people who have knowledge of the Senate Intelligence Committee`s investigation. Basically, the big knock on that investigation is that it`s not adequately staffed, that it might be impeded for partisan reasons because Senator Richard Burr was part of the Trump campaign and maybe the Russians don`t -- maybe the Republicans don`t really want to get to the bottom of this thing.
But the main like technical concern that we have heard, especially for people who know what`s happening inside that investigation, it`s been that they`ve basically just been focusing on reviewing what led to that intelligence assessment back in January that they released publicly which said that that Russia had in fact attacked our elections. That had been the real beef from people who`ve been watching that investigation closely, that they were only just reviewing the documents that led to that intelligence assessment.
And while that`s neat, it doesn`t exactly inspire confidence about how hard they were looking into the next question, the question of whether or not the Russians had helped whether the Russians had American Confederates who knew about this or were working with them on that attack. That has been the worry about the Senate Intelligence Committee. Well, now, it seems like they`re working on that second question, and they`ve got these money laundering cops at the Treasury Department helping them with their efforts.
So, that`s a big event. I mean, if there are obstruction of justice worries about this administration, in the wake of these you know deep and serious concerns that the president appears to have plainly fired the FBI director as a way to try to effect or shut down the FBI investigation into these matters, well, now, we really do have to start thinking about whether the other agencies, whether the other law enforcement personnel, the other investigators involved and trying to get to the bottom of this, we have to start thinking about whether they`re protected or could they get fired like Jim Comey did, too?
I mean, in the case of the Treasury Department`s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, we`re now going to be seeking real information and real assurances about the independence and the integrity of that part of the Treasury Department. If they`re doing important investigatory work here, how independent are they? How independent are they able to operate from, say, the president handpicked Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin? Is there concern that their investigative capacity could be affected by a strategic firing for example?
I mean, who knew we would ever need to do this, but if there`s going to be a national patriotic, civic effort to protect and shield from influence the Trump-Russia investigations in various corners of American law enforcement, well -- I mean, that means obviously eyes on what happens next at the FBI, because the FBI director just got fired apparently because of the Russia investigations. It also means new concerns and new focus on these crucial law enforcement offices inside the Department of the Treasury that have been looking at money laundering.
It also means looking at the U.S. attorneys. "Vanity Fair" today had a very provocative report by reporter Chris Smith titled "Inside Trump`s Coming War with the FBI." It`s mostly about the FBI`s reaction, a reaction within the FBI to the firing of their Director James Comey.
But the piece ends with this note from a, quote, FBI insider. Chris Smith writes that according to this FBI insider, quote, there are actually multiple inquiries in progress. As an example, he says, quote, there`s the business side. Was there money laundering going on? Money from these Russian plutocrats that`s been washed through Trump`s real estate and businesses. That`s gotten overlooked. But Preet Bharara and the southern district of New York were supposedly looking into that.
Preet Bharara was one of U.S. attorneys who were suddenly and without notice fired by the president in March. What was notable about Preet Bharara getting fired in particular was that his jurisdiction in the southern district of New York not only includes the headquarters of the Trump organization, it`s also the de-facto prosecuting attorney for international money laundering cases because so many banks with global reach are headquartered in Manhattan. So, the firing of Preet Bharara was very interesting because of his remit in his jurisdiction.
It was also specifically notable because Donald Trump had personally assured Preet Bharara after the election that he`d be allowed to keep his job, and there has yet been no explanation from the White House as to why the president changed his mind on that and fired Preet Bharara with no notice. But again, today, "Vanity Fair" reporting that at the time he was fired, Preet Bharara may have been looking for money laundering, quote, money laundering -- excuse me, money from these Russian plutocrats that`s been washed through Trump`s real estate and businesses.
So, where the investigations, right -- there`s these investigations being carried on Congress. There`s the FBI investigations there`s the money laundering investigations that apparently have been happening at the Treasury. They also may have been happening in specific federal prosecutors` offices, right?
And we`re looking around at the ongoing investigations, we`re wondering how they can be protected, whether they are susceptible to pressure or firings ala James Comey and Preet Bharara. Whether they`re susceptible to other means by which the administration might try to undermine them that we can`t imagine, because we don`t read that much dystopian anti-democratic fiction.
But I`ll tell you, this my last point, there`s one other place that we need to look at if we are thinking about trying to protect the Russia-Trump investigations. People who know this stuff are starting to focus on this in particular in terms of how these parts of the investigation can be protected and that`s to specific inspector general`s offices.
Last night on this show, we`ve reported exclusively that the Justice Department is refusing to say whether or not Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any department of justice investigations that might include former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. We don`t know if Jeff Sessions is recused from matters involving Manafort because the Justice Department will not say which is weird.
The Justice Department has said that Jeff Sessions is recused from matters involving former national security adviser Mike Flynn. They won`t say it about Manafort, but he did say it about Flynn. And the occasion on which Jeff Sessions announced that he`d recuse himself from anything having to do with Flynn, was when it was announced that the inspector general at the Defense Department was investigating Flynn over him being paid by foreign governments.
I mean, there are -- there are inspector general offices in all the agencies and they are all independent and they are real investigative offices and are usually staffed by very serious people. And inspector general`s offices are not always perfect and there are good ones and there are bad ones. But in general, these offices -- the inspector general offices in the agencies, they have a pretty tough record of figuring stuff out, being blunt about what they have figured out when they do figure it out.
And it may just have been a coincidence, but when we learned that the Department of Defense inspector general, that independent inspector general was looking at Flynn, that`s when Jeff Sessions took himself out of having anything to do with Flynn.
There is also another inspector general who is looking at an aspect of the Trump-Russia investigation and that`s the inspector general at Jeff Sessions` own department. There`s an independent inspector general at the Justice Department who was already looking into the handling of the Clinton email matter during the presidential campaign. A few days ago, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz asked that inspector general to expand that inquiry to also look at James Comey being fired as FBI director.
Well, now, for Democratic senators have asked that same inspector general to look not just at the firing of James Comey, but also to look at the question of whether or not Jeff Sessions is actually recused from matters involving the Trump campaign and which he said he was but it seems like it`s not anymore they`ve also asked the inspector general to look into whether the FBI investigation into Trump Russia is adequately resourced. That has all been asked of the inspector general`s office at the Department of Justice.
And inspector general`s offices are notoriously tight-lipped. We don`t know exactly what they`re doing what they`re working on, and we don`t know exactly how pointed these investigations are that are underway. But we know that they are underway.
And from the point of view of President Donald Trump, hmm, independent investigations, really? He doesn`t like that idea? He doesn`t like these investigations happening in the inspector general`s office at Defense and Justice?
He has to know or he`s learning quickly that it`s actually within his power as president to fire those inspectors general. He could just fire them. If he does so, of course, that would be more bombshells at this point after firing the FBI director were a little shell-shocked.
But if President Trump decides to try to kibosh these independent inspector general investigations, if he decides to try to block those investigations by firing those inspectors general, this is fascinating. Legally, he`s got to give days notice of his intention to do so. So, if he fires those inspector general, those inspectors general, that gives each of those inspectors general 30 days of a sprint to wrap up their investigations and make their findings known.
He`s already fired the FBI director. He`s already fired Preet Bharara and the other U.S. attorneys. He fired the deputy attorney general.
Who do you think he`s going to fire next?
MADDOW: J. Edgar Hoover served as FBI director for half a century from 1924 until 1972. He never actually retired his FBI director, never stepped down. He served up until the day he died, May 1972.
After Hoover`s death, President Nixon named this man, L. Patrick Gray, to be the new acting FBI director, the first new person to head that agency since it was founded by Hoover 48 years earlier. L. Patrick Gray had worked on Nixon`s staff when he was vice president. He`d worked for the president secretary of health education and welfare he later worked at the civil division of the Department of Justice.
He had a ton of Nixon administration jobs. But most importantly, he was a close personal friend of President Nixon. He was the prototypical Nixon loyalist, which is always the way he`s described when people write about him to this day. So, make him FBI director?
It`s no wonder Democrats at the time were a little uneasy about his appointment as acting FBI director, May 1972, especially because President Nixon made the announcement and even though the acting part of his title meant he wouldn`t need to be confirmed, Nixon didn`t want it to be a short- term gig.
This is "The New York Times" from May 1972. Quote: Mr. Gray will serve until after November 7th, according to the White House because the president doesn`t want the appointment to become involved in partisan politics in an election year.
Yes, wouldn`t want it to be at all political, so we`re just going to appoint my close personal friend here to serve as FBI director indefinitely without confirmation for as long as is feasible.
That was in May 1972. In June 1972, hey, look, it`s the Watergate break- in. Five men arrested inside the offices of the DNC caught attempting to wiretap phones and steal documents. You know, what time to have a friend in the FBI director.
Nixon, of course, was reelected as president that November and just as the Watergate investigations are really starting to ramp up, he nominated L. Patrick Gray to stay on as his full-time, no longer just acting, full-time, full-fledged FBI director, and Democrats for having none of it. Hours of contentious questioning at his confirmation hearing, it came out that Mr. Gray had been passing along confidential FBI files on the investigation of the Watergate investigation to the -- to Nixon`s White House counsel, John Dean. And there was no way he was getting confirmed and Democrats at the time were very blunt about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people in the Senate we`re saying today that it`s all over for L. Patrick Gray, that the Senate Judiciary Committee will not recommend that he be confirmed as permanent head of the FBI. It`s being said that the White House knows this and is looking for a graceful way for Mr. Gray to withdraw.
Paul Duke has learned more of the details.
PAUL DUKE, REPORTER: There are not enough votes to confirm Gray.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my opinion, the nomination is dead and it`s just a question of how gentle the execution is going to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It`s just a question of how gentle the execution is going to be.
The Senate got up on its hind legs and said no to President Nixon`s FBI director, in the middle of the Watergate investigation. Trump administration tonight announced their four candidates to replace the FBI director after they just fired the one who was leading the Trump-Russia investigation. What`s the Senate going to do now?
That story is next.
MADDOW: Attorney General Jeff Sessions at least nominally has refused himself from the Trump-Russia investigation. That means at least nominally this is the guy who`s in charge at Justice, and that means definitely he`s the man who has the power to appoint a special counsel to oversee this case if there is going to be one.
He`s the deputy attorney general. His name is Rod Rosenstein. Democrats are now leaning increasingly hard on him to appoint a special counsel and take it out of his own purview. Today, Senator Dick Durbin released this statement.
Quote: in an interview with NBC News, President Trump admitted to firing the FBI director because of his investigation of the Trump campaign`s Russia connections. That`s dangerously close to obstruction of justice. This morning, the president tweeted a thinly veiled threat to Mr. Comey which could be construed as threatening a witness in this investigation which is another violation of federal law.
Quote: to preserve his reputation as a credible prosecutor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must appoint an independent special prosecutor to pursue possible criminal charges or he must resign.
That was earlier today. Now, tonight, just a short time ago, we got this from Senator Dianne Feinstein who`s the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. She says, quote: I also support Senator Durbin`s call for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to resign if he`s unwilling to appoint a special counsel. These investigations are far too important to risk disruption, delay or interference.
Now, when Rod Rosenstein was confirmed by the Senate last month for this deputy attorney general job, it was an overwhelming vote, 94-6. But then came his role in the firing of the FBI director in the middle of the FBI investigating the president`s campaign.
Now, Senator Mark Warner, who`s the top Democrat on Senate intel, now, he told Lawrence O`Donnell that he wishes he could take back his yes vote on Rod Rosenstein`s confirmation. It`s, of course, too late to take back that vote, but Rosenstein could still appoint a special counsel. There`s, of course, no sign whatsoever that he will but he could.
Joining us now is Senator Amy Klobuchar. She`s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator Klobuchar, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I think it will never happen that the Trump administration will allow a special prosecutor, a special counsel or any sort of independent congressional committee to be formed to do this. It feels impossible to me.
Do you disagree?
KLOBUCHAR: I do, because I think there is so much pressure. You`re starting to have some Republican House members at least call for a special prosecutor, a handful of them. We are going to be meeting in a closed-door meeting with Rod Rosenstein in the next few days, and a number of us are going to demand that he appoint a special prosecutor, which is the same as you know as a special counsel. The law allows him to do that.
If it`s in the public interest and if the attorney general has recused himself from this investigation, which he has, it falls in the hands of Rod Rosenstein. And like everyone else, that memo that he wrote, it did not make legal muster to me. I -- like everyone else -- I didn`t like how Jim Comey handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
But Jim Comey is someone -- I was his law school classmate, I don`t know if I revealed that on your show in the past, and was -- he was quite respected in our class. So, I`ve known him over the years. And I didn`t think he should have been fired over this, and especially not smack-dab in the middle of a major investigation.
And so, that is why given that it has turned out that that memo, while maybe Rod Rosenstein believed in what he put in that memo, he used old quotes from people during the campaign instead of a -- to me, a thorough legal memo. We know now that the president made his decision based on his own views, in part, which he is now admitted is because of the Russia investigation.
So, all of this leads to the fact that Rod Rosenstein must appoint a special prosecutor, someone that can put all of this together and get to the bottom of this, because you`ve been doing this on your show for months, many of us in the Senate have been pushing for an independent commission to get the facts out so that our democracy is not in peril, because we simply cannot have a foreign government influencing our democracy.
And one more thing I`d add as a former prosecutor, this is really about upholding the law. And those people who work in the FBI go to work every day not for political reasons or for our country, and they deserve to have someone in charge that`s looking out for them. Many of them truly liked Jim Comey.
And so, when I heard the first part of your show you know who else is the president`s going to fire next -- there are a lot of people working on these investigations that cannot be fired, that will not be fired, and that are going to get to the bottom of this.
MADDOW: Senator, you were just describing the president`s explanation for why he fired James Comey. He is, as you said, essentially admitting that it was his decision that the Rosenstein memo was a pretext and that he made it in -- in part, because of the -- at least in part because of the Russia investigation.
There`s also these claims by the president that he had conversations with Director Comey in which Director Comey assured him that he was not the target of an FBI investigation. Now, this is contested information. Associates of James Comey say they`re quite sure a conversation like this couldn`t happen. The president has suggested that there might be tapes of that conversation and that would somehow vindicate him on this matter.
If obstruction of justice is a possibility here, either in terms of the firing or in terms of any pre-firing conversations that the president initiated about this investigation, would the Senate Judiciary Committee pursue that? Would use subpoena the tapes if the tapes exist? Would that be something that the Judiciary Committee would try to nail down?
KLOBUCHAR: Of course, that -- we could do that and I think that`s going to be something that can be looked at in the future. Right now, the intelligence committee is looking at all of this. As you pointed out earlier in the show, those very important documents related to following the money, they`d be intelligence committee in the U.S. Senate with Senator Burr who has made clear that they are looking at the connections with Senator Warner, and actually, was issued a pretty strong statement after Comey had been fired.
This is Burr saying that he was troubled, that this was bad timing , and went into quite some details. So, I do think the Senate Intelligence Committee is doing their job, which is going on with what learned. To me, one of the biggest things we learned this week was when the acting FBI director went before Congress under oath, went before the Intelligence Committee at a public hearing so that, one, Jim Comey, in fact, did have a faith of the FBI agents in direct contradiction to what the president had said.
And that secondly, this was not a minor investigation. That this is a major investigation and there are supervisors of that investigation there are people that I don`t think are going to stop doing their work simply because their boss was fired. If anything, I think it`s going to make them want to get to the bottom of this more.
MADDOW: Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota -- thank you for being with us tonight, Senator. It`s good to see you. Thank you.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. It`s great to be on, Rachel. Thanks.
MADDOW: All right. We got much more to come this busy Friday night, including a very important guest talking about that obstruction of justice claim and I was just discussing with the senator. We`ve got a very important interview coming up. Stay with us.
MADDOW: When President Obama was elected in 2008, the eyes of the whole world were on this new president, such a huge change from George W. Bush. America`s first African-American president in -- all eyes all over the world on what Barack Obama would mean for the country, what he would do when he got to D.C. Eyes all over the world.
With the notable exception of the eyes of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. His eyes were focused squarely on what Senator Obama`s elevation to the presidency would mean for him: Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Governor Blagojevich is now serving time in federal prison. He`s serving a 14-year corruption sentence, because he did have the power as governor to appoint a replacement for Barack Obama`s newly vacant Senate seat and he decided to solicit bribes. That`s basically the sale price of that seat.
Last month, Governor Blagojevich tried to get his prison time reduced. Prosecutors opposed the request on the grounds that the governor, quote, still hasn`t admitted the crimes that he committed. And it`s true, to this day, Governor Rod Blagojevich and his lawyers insist he never did anything wrong. They say what he did was political deal-making. that it wasn`t a crime, that any politician faced with the prospect of being able to fill a Senate seat would naturally start looking around for political stuff to trade it for.
And, you know, before he went on trial, that was -- that was not necessarily an unreasonable argument. I mean, you can disagree with it. But there -- there was a real, a serious argument to be made that the governor was seriously and soberly carrying out the normal, uncraven, uncriminal duties of a serving governor when he was considering how to fill that Senate seat. I mean, in theory, he had that case to make -- until you heard the tape.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: I told my nephew Alex, he just turned 26 today. I said, Alex, you know, I call him for his birthday and I says, it`s just too bad you`re not four years older because I could given you a U.S. Senate seat for your birthday.
BLAGOJEVICH: You know what I mean?
BLAGOJEVICH: I mean, I`ve got this thing and it`s (EXPLETIVE DELETED) golden.
And I`m not just giving it up for (EXPLETIVE DELETED) nothing. I`m not going to do it. And I can always parachute and use it and (EXPLETIVE DELETED) parachute me there.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Illinois Governor Rod bleep Blagojevich the day after President Obama won the election in 2008. That`s what he was thinking about. He was caught on an FBI wiretap talking about how that seat was bleeping golden, and he`s not giving it up for bleeping nothing.
And when that recording was played in court, it quickly became clear that he was going to go to jail and he`s in jail. So, that was 2008.
Today, early this morning, the serving president said this on Twitter. He said, quote: James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.
The president says he had three different conversations with the FBI director before he fired him. Conversations in which the FBI director told him that he`s not under investigation by the FBI. Now, people close to the FBI director say those conversations never happened. They say what happened at a White House dinner between President Trump and FBI Director James Comey is that President Trump demanded a loyalty oath from the FBI director, which the FBI director declined to give.
Now, the president this morning suggested via that tweet that there might be a tape of that conversation, essentially implying that Comey better be careful. That has driven people into a frenzy of Nixon comparisons all day long for obvious reasons.
But, you know, the prospect that a tape exists of the president`s dinner conversation the former FBI Director James Comey is interesting not because a president taping conversations is inherently nefarious, when presidents haven`t done it since Nixon, but lots of presidents did it before Nixon. The reason that`s really interesting is because if there is a tape and the conversation went anything like the president says it did, or they`re talking about whether or not he`s under investigation -- well, that tape nobody`s talked about it is fair game for being subpoenaed. It could be used as potential evidence and James Comey could be called as a potential witness.
There are already serious questions about whether the president may have obstructed justice, specifically just by firing the FBI director, especially because he admits that he did that in part because of the FBI`s Russia investigations. The president has admitted -- he has openly claimed that at a dinner at the White House, he and James Comey talked about whether James Comey would get to stay on as FBI director, and at the same time, at the same dinner, he prepped James Comey as to whether or not he was under investigation by the FBI.
And that very much sounds like potential obstruction of justice, and if there is a tape of that and that may open up a whole new set of legal liabilities for this president, because obstruction of justice is a real thing.
Today, Senator Dianne Feinstein, as well as Congressman John Conyers and Congressman Elijah Cummings wrote letters to the White House counsel, demanding to know if such a tape exists. They referred to the president`s tweet. Congressman Conyers and Cummings wrote, quote: It is a crime to intimidate or threaten any potential witness with the intent to influence, delay or prevent their official testimony.
We are in new legal territory here, but you know what? We have just the person to help explain what`s important about it and that`s next.
MADDOW: Very pleased to say that joining us now is Bob Bauer. He`s the former White House counsel to President Barack Obama.
Mr. Bauer, thank you very much for being with us on a Friday night. I really appreciate your time tonight.
BOB BAUER, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO FORMER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Certainly.
MADDOW: So, President Trump on Tuesday released a letter in which he fired the FBI director. He also claimed in that letter that the director had told him three times that he was not under FBI investigation. You said today that that letter and that claim in that letter raised red flags for you. Why is that?
BAUER: Well, it`s a norm, a well-established norm that the president United States does not communicate with investigators responsible for an ongoing and active criminal investigation. So, that`s number one. I mean, that really is meant to be an area of activity criminal enforcement that is separated out and kept quite clear of any potential suggestion of political interference. So, that conversation alone just regardless of content is troubling.
But then he goes further to say that he asked for reassurance that he personally was not at legal risk and he did so apparently on three separate occasions, once at a dinner and twice on a phone. And it`s really exceedingly unwise to have those conversations. It violates the norm. And in violating the norm, it raises the sorts of legal questions that the president now unfortunately faces.
MADDOW: And in terms of those legal questions, this is a president who delights in violating norms, but doesn`t have the option of delighting and violating laws provided that they`re investigated and prosecuted if those criminal violations happen. If this were investigated or prosecuted as obstruction of justice or some other potential criminal matter -- is there any reason why James Comey couldn`t testify as to the content of his conversations with the president?
BAUER: No, I don`t believe the conversations that the president reports and has publicly said that he had with Mr. Comey about this are privileged. He`s not asking as a matter of policy, a question the president might appropriately raise with the criminal investigative process. He`s asking a question that concerns him personally, his own liability in an active investigation. And I don`t believe it`s privileged. I don`t think a claim of privilege would stand.
And the further complication here is the president went about this in a way that`s really quite self-defeating. So, on top of all of that, he knowledge is in the interview with Lester Holt that when he had one of those conversations with Mr. Trump, he and -- with Mr. Comey, he and Mr. Comey discussed whether Mr. Comey would to hold on to his job and the president made it clear, according to the president, that he wasn`t really willing to commit on that. So, he`s having a conversation with Mr. Comey about his own personal liability, at the same time as he`s keeping open the possibility that Mr. Comey might lose his job or might not lose his job.
These facts taken together create at least a set of questions that I`m confident the lawyers around the president wish he had not raised.
MADDOW: Who would hold him accountable for that?
BAUER: Well, the very criminal justice process that we`re talking about would hold them accountable for that. The Department of Justice, the prosecutors certainly with the support of the investigative court, the FBI, would look into a question of whether or not in these conversations, taken together with other facts, there was an attempt to obstruct justice.
Now, we don`t know whether that`s true. We don`t know whether that`s true. But the president has put himself in a position where the question would not be unreasonably raised.
MADDOW: Would the -- in terms of -- if there is an FBI investigation of this obstruction of justice, would you expect appointees of the president to recuse themselves from overseeing such an inquiry?
BAUER: Absolutely, but political appointees, absolutely. They would have to.
MADDOW: Bob Bauer, former White House counsel to President Obama -- thank you for helping us understand this. You are a remarkably clear speaker on complicated matters. Thank you, sir.
BAUER: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Thanks. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: A little bit of breaking news our show tonight. The acting U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York is named June Kim. We`re talking earlier this hour about Preet Bharara being fired as the U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York. The acting us attorney in his place is June Kim, who has just released this tonight. The statement on Twitter, quote: We will not allow the U.S. financial system to be used to launder proceeds of crimes committed anywhere here or in Russia.
This comes after the southern district of New York has announced a six million dollar settlement of civil money-laundering and forfeiture claims connected to Russian tax fraud. But, again, a late night announcement from the southern district of New York as "Vanity Fair" reports today that at least according to one FBI insider source, Preet Bharara was investigating Trump money laundering concerns with regard to Russia at the time that he was fired by the Trump administration.
It`s Friday nights, so that means the news is going to happen all night long.
That does it for us tonight, though. We will see you again on Monday.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD". Ali Melber is in for Lawrence this evening.
Good evening, Ari.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END