Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 16, 2017 Guest: Michael Schmidt, Jim Himes, Frank Montoya
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: 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 this hour.
So, we have some news to break tonight. You have already heard already, you have already heard -- you have heard already about "The New York Times" reporting tonight that the fired FBI Director James Comey created a paper trail to document what he perceived to be efforts by the president to obstruct the FBI`s investigation into the Russian attack on the presidential election and possible Trump campaign connections to that attack.
You have heard about this story already according to "The Times"` reporting tonight. That paper trail from Director Comey includes a memo written by James Comey on February 14th immediately after he met one on one with the president in the Oval Office. That memo reportedly says that President Trump told Director Comey to shut down the FBI`s investigation into the national security adviser Mike Flynn. Mike Flynn had resigned the day before that meeting because of his undisclosed contacts with Russian officials.
Now, two people who say they have read Comey`s memo say the memo quotes the president directly from that conversation saying about the Flynn investigation, quote, I hope you can let this go.
So, there is a lot to this story. The White House is denying this conversation took place. James Comey would probably be a pretty good witness if it came down to a he said/he said disagreement about whether or not this conversation happened, particularly if he contemporaneously documented the contents of that conversation when it happened and he can prove it.
You know, but it`s possible the White House could also prove it in terms of their side of the story. I mean, if they are not erasing that proof right now. The president has previously indicated that conversations that take place in the Trump White House might possibly be recorded.
The White House communications staff will not confirm or deny that either way but whether or not there are tapes of conversations that have happened in the Oval Office, if Comey`s memo from that February 14th meeting is accurate, that, of course, would be a clear, direct, unfuzzy, serious and apparently documented allegation of what would appear to be an attempt at illegal obstruction of justice by the president of the United States.
So, this is a big deal. There has been a lot of interesting response to this news tonight including one Republican committee chairman with subpoena power telling NBC News tonight that he is drafting necessary paperwork as we speak to obtain Comey`s memo from that February 14th meeting.
So, we`ve got that news ahead. We`ve also got "The New York Times" reporter who broke this story, who broke the Comey memo story tonight. Michael Schmidt is that reporter. He will be joining us here live in just a moment. You are going to want to hear from him.
But as I said at the top, we`ve got something else. Before we get to the meat of that story, I also need to tell you that we have another smaller piece of this story to break tonight. I`m going to explain this in more detail a little deeper in the show tonight.
But let me just give the bottom line right now -- NBC News can confirm tonight that another subpoena has now been issued in the ongoing federal investigations into Donald Trump`s campaign and his associates. This breaking news scoop tonight from "The New York Times" is about the federal FBI investigation into Mike Flynn. That "New York Times" reporting tonight is that Trump himself allegedly tried to get the FBI director to shut the Flynn investigation down.
Since that meeting where that conversation allegedly took place on February 14th, it has been reported since that the Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed documents related to Mike Flynn for its investigation in the Senate and has also since been reported that the U.S. attorney`s office in the eastern district of Virginia sent out grand jury subpoenas related to Mike Flynn, subpoenas that went out to people who had business relationships with Mike Flynn.
So, that`s what we`ve known about the Flynn part of the Trump/Russia investigation. What we are adding to that, what we can report tonight exclusively is that there is another subpoena. It is part of a federal criminal investigation, and this new subpoena is not about Mike Flynn. It`s about former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.
This new subpoena we can report tonight relates to a loan taken out by Paul Manafort immediately after he resigned from the Trump campaign under a cloud of suspicion about his ties to pro-Putin political interests in Ukraine. "The Wall Street Journal" reported late on Friday night that the Department of Justice was looking into Paul Manafort`s banking records.
What we can add now is that a subpoena has gone out. It is related to a specific loan from a company that is related to a previous Trump business associate.
Now, I will explain exactly what we know about this little -- this information a little later on this hour. But this new news, this new news about this new previously undisclosed, unreported subpoena for the Trump campaign chairman, this new news that we`re breaking right now, this breaks tonight, I`m fully cognizant against the backdrop of this much bigger "New York Times" story that relates to James Comey.
You know, when James Comey was hired by the Obama administration to be FBI director, there was some political controversy about his hiring. I mean, FBI director is a big deal, right? Ten-year term. That`s why it`s such a big deal that Trump fired him, you know, only a few years into that term.
But there was controversy when Obama hired him in the first place. There was controversy on the left because, number one, James Comey is thought to be a Republican. Number two, James Comey had served in a high-ranking position. He`d been deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush Justice Department and that was at a time when the George W. Bush Justice Department was implicated in having given legal cover to the Bush administration`s policy of torturing terrorism suspects, right?
I mean, on paper, that makes somebody with a resume like James Comey not a likely candidate to be given a big promotion to a high-profile job in any Democratic administration, let alone the Obama administration. On paper, it didn`t much make sense that the Obama administration would hire somebody from the George W. Bush Justice Department to come run the FBI.
On paper, it didn`t make sense. But in real life, you know what? James Comey was able to tell a dramatic story of him standing up to the George W. Bush administration when that administration had tried to pressure the Justice Department on -- the Justice Department on a controversial surveillance measure. He gave that dramatic testimony in Congress and nobody who heard it ever forgot it. So, he had that going for him.
And he had one other ace up his sleeve. It was a memo. Yes, James Comey had been in on the Bush-era Justice Department decisions on torture, but on May 31st, 2005, after participating in a Justice Department meeting about the legality of torture, James Comey committed to writing in the immediate aftermath of that meet, he committed to writing, he wrote down and documented for the record that at that meeting, he`d explained to the attorney general that what they were deciding there about torture was wrong.
He wrote, quote: In stark terms, I explained to him what this would look like some day and what it would mean for the president and the government.
He wrote this memo after the meeting that he had participated in. He e- mailed this memo to his chief of staff, basically memorializing for the record that he was against this decision. That he expressed at the time that a case could be made that some of this stuff they were authorize, quote, was simply awful.
And so, when there was a Department of Justice investigation later on, into how it came to be that the Justice Department`s lawyers under George W. Bush had stretched the law beyond recognition to authorize torture, part of what they had to review, part of what was in the record was this James Comey memo -- James Comey`s contemporaneous memo stating for the record that he was against what was going on at the time.
And however that makes you feel about James Comey, and his participation in torture-related discussions and the Obama`s administration`s decision to bring him on at FBI director, whatever makes you think about that, that anecdote, that known thing about his past does go some distance to proving that James Comey has a history of documenting controversial meetings and conversations with highers up, documenting them in writing at the time in case he ever needs to get that stuff on the historical record.
He`s apparently been doing that for years. He apparently did that with the attorney general back when he was deputy attorney general. And now, according to "The New York Times," he`s been doing that after every conversation and phone call that he has with the president.
And so, tonight, there`s the headline. Comey memo says Trump asked him to end Flynn investigation.
And if Michael Schmidt`s reporting is right in "The New York Times" tonight and these two people who read the Comey memo are telling the truth, then there is, once again, a bombshell contemporaneously written James Comey memo about a meeting he was in with somebody well up the food chain from him. A meeting he thinks went dramatically wrong and he felt the need to write it down and document it at the time.
If that memo accurately documents the fact that the president told the FBI director to shut down the FBI investigation into the national security adviser over his connections with Russia, if that really happened, then this is like -- this is heading toward the end, right? It has to be, right?
It feels that way. But let`s make sure we`ve got this story exactly right.
Joining us is Michael Schmidt, "The New York Times" reporter who broke this story tonight.
Mr. Schmidt, congratulations on this scoop. Thank you for being here to help us understand it.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: First of all, let me just ask it in the way I characterize your story here. Did I -- did I get anything wrong there? Is there anything important that I missed?
SCHMIDT: No, no, you accurately describe it.
MADDOW: OK. I obviously won`t ask you to talk about your sources but can you tell us a little bit about how you came to know about this memo, how you came to believe that it is -- it was contemporaneously written and that it does say what you describe it saying?
SCHMIDT: In the past few days, I learned that Comey had created these memos about every phone conversation and every meeting that he had with the president. And in the course of reporting that out and trying to prepare a story just simply on that fact, I learned details about one of those memos.
And probably one of the most explosive details, although I don`t know the content of every other memo, my guess is this is probably the most explosive and salacious stuff in it. Basically, you know, after this meeting at the White House, Comey was very concerned. He was very concerned about a lot of things Trump had done and he knew that he had to create this record if there was ever an issue.
They weren`t really sure how to deal with what the president did, but they knew that if they wrote it down, they would pay off in the future.
MADDOW: Michael, do you know -- I ask this because of that historical example that I gave about James Comey and this memo a decade ago when the discussions were happening in the Justice Department under George W. Bush about the legality of torture. We know from actually "New York Times" reporting about that experience. That Comey not only contemporaneously documented those meetings where controversial decisions were made and where he stood in relation to those controversial decisions. We know that he e- mailed them at the time to his chief of staff, to one of his top staffers.
Do we know how this information was handled in the moment as Comey was repeatedly making these memos and notes every time he spoke with Trump?
SCHMIDT: Well, I know that there are copies of them that have been circulated at the FBI and those copies still exist there. Some of the memos are actually classified and have been logged on the FBI`s classified system. So, the idea was to spread this out to Comey`s, you know, very close advisers at the bureau so there were other folks that knew about them at the time. And Comey told folks he was writing them and he put his initials at the bottom of them.
And this is actually something I didn`t know a lot about Comey. I`ve only covered him in recent years. But in the past few days, I`ve talked to some folks who said, you know, he didn`t really do this at the beginning of his career, but when he came to Washington like he did as the deputy attorney general under President Bush, he began doing memos like this. He did things like this during the Clinton e-mail investigation and he did them now.
Whenever he was going to something that could be politically sensitive, he did this to document it.
MADDOW: And, Michael, just to be clear, you explained this, but let me just underscore it. When he made this memo at the time, he circulated it at the time? Or he only circulated it --
SCHMIDT: No, I believe -- I believe he circulated it at the time. I don`t know exactly where these memos are in the FBI system or whatever, but I know that they were circulated to his folks at the time. And stuff was logged in the FBI system.
There were not -- there`s something called 302s which are FBI agent reports. These are not those, but these are more memos saying, look, on this day, I went to the White House. This is what happened. Here`s the story. You know, JBC at the bottom.
MADDOW: In terms of your access to this information, you write in "The Times" tonight that you didn`t actually see the full memo. You say that your sources read parts of the memo to you.
Do you have any sense of why they`d be comfortable reading you parts of the memo but not showing it to you? Or if they have any plans to release this document either to Congress or to the public more completely other than reading you pieces of it?
SCHMIDT: I don`t know why we haven`t been able to see, you know, copies of the documents. People can get skittish about meeting with us. People are going to get skittish about talking to us. And so, you know, I don`t have an answer to that.
But what I do know is -- well, my guess is that Comey would probably give these without question to Capitol Hill if they are subpoenaed or if Comey is subpoenaed to testify. You know, Comey has taken a lot of criticism. A lot of people take issue with things that he`s done from the left and the right and inside the Justice Department, inside the FBI, but if we know anything about Comey, it`s that he prides his independence and prides his transparency.
So, my guess is at some point, whether it`s in the next few days, months or years, we will probably see these memos.
MADDOW: Michael, one last question for you. When you brought this to the White House, to get comment from them, comment, confirmation, denial, can I ask about how they reacted? They`ve obviously pushed back on your report since it was published on "The Times`" website this afternoon. They said that this is not an accurate account of that conversation between Comey and Trump and that he doesn`t want to shut down this investigation and never tried to.
Does that comport with how they reacted when you brought this to them for comment? Did they seem surprised that a memo like this might exist?
SCHMIDT: Well, the only thing we really knew at the time was that we were one of the few people onto this and the only people that were asking the White House about it. I wouldn`t want to get into what the back and forth with them was. But, you know, as they did, they did deny it.
And one White House official said to me that we should point out the fact that the deputy FBI Director McCabe did testify when he was up on Capitol Hill last week that there had been no problems with the White House meddling in the investigation. So, that`s something we don`t understand why McCabe would say that given what happened with Comey. But as the story goes forward, there`s a lot of things we don`t know, but we feel confident in the information we published and in the fact these memos do exist.
MADDOW: Mike Schmidt of "The New York Times", who is the sole byline on this incredible bombshell tonight -- I feel like I`m overusing the word bombshell but they just keep going off. Mr. Schmidt, congratulations on the scoop. Thank you for helping us understand it.
SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. One of the things that people who know FBI Director James Comey have said about him is that whether or not he has done it throughout his career, for many years in his career. As Michael Schmidt was just saying, since he has been in high-ranking, sometimes politically tense jobs in Washington, he takes notes. He makes memoranda.
He basically documents stuff that he`s involved in that he may want to be on the record as ongoing investigations unfurl or as particular decisions become more or less politically controversial. He seems to do this at least we know about times when he`s done this, particularly when he has observed something that does not seem quite right.
Last week on Thursday, somebody who knows and has worked with James Comey tweeted this about him, turns out to be quite prescient. Quote, "One thing I learned at DOJ about James Comey, he leaves a protective paper trail whenever he deems something inappropriate happened. Stay tuned."
Stay tuned? Five days after that tweet, here we are with this "New York Times" reporting that the president told James Comey to stop the Flynn investigation and James Comey took notes on that matter and has now had them described to "The New York Times."
Joining us now is the man who told us to stay tuned, Matthew Miller, former DOJ spokesman under Attorney General Eric Holder.
Mr. Miller, thank you.
MATTHEW MILLER, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMANT SPOKESMAN: Thank you.
MADDOW: I`m a little suspicious of you.
MILLER: I wish I could say I had foreknowledge I knew that he was going to do this. I didn`t know. I didn`t have any inside information, but I -- you know, the story that you just referenced, the 2009 story, I was at the Justice Department when that story ran. I remember it well because I thought it was a very instructive lesson about Jim Comey.
That memo that he wrote to his chief of staff, there are two things that were interesting to me about that.
MADDOW: Let me stop you before you go there.
MADDOW: Remember where you are because we`re going to pick that up again.
MADDOW: You are saying that you did not have advanced knowledge, warning, insider information that this specific thing was going to break. You were saying stay tuned because Comey is known to have done a paper trail in the past, known to have documented controversial things. You were saying it`s conceivable there will be some documentation here in terms of controversial conversations he was privy to. That`s all you meant in a generic since?
MILLER: Yes, yes, that`s right.
MADDOW: OK. Here we are. I want to be clear about that.
MILLER: So, I was at the Justice Department when that story ran, and it was clear what happened. So, "The New York Times" found out that Jim Comey had signed off on waterboarding and other torture techniques and looked like had gone to him to ask him for comment, and lo and behold, he produces this memo that he wrote.
I should say, deputy attorneys general don`t typically write long e-mails to their chiefs of staff. It happens the other way around. They send an e-mail to their chief of staff, yes, I`ll do that, no, I won`t that.
MILLER: He typed out this long e-mail and not only had written it, but had printed when he left the Justice Department, saved it for four years until he needs it, and when "The New York Times" came calling, they got his get- out-of-jail-free card.
MADDOW: They got it at "The New York Times" and the office of professional responsibility at DOJ who was investigating those decisions by DOJ lawyers. They also got it as part of their internal review in what happened and those decisions, and that was able to be a contemporaneously made document that he could cite essentially not just to the press but to investigators.
MILLER: Yes, that`s exactly right. And so, when you see last week reports about this dinner at the White House with the president when the president asked him about the status of the investigation as the president admitted, when as "The New York Times" reported, he asked for a pledge of loyalty, both of those are incredibly inappropriate things for the president to do seemed like a natural conclusion to draw that Jim Comey would have memorialized somehow in case he ever needed it.
MADDOW: In terms of -- yes, both accounts of that discussion from Comey allies, speaking to the press saying, the loyalty pledge was demanded and from the president himself saying, no, I was just asking him about the status of the investigation.
MADDOW: Either side is -- well, the way you put it was inappropriate. Let me ask you about that word inappropriate. Is what`s being described here illegal?
I feel like if I was trying to teach a class like a third grade class, and that lesson assignment that day was, OK, kids, today we`re going to learn about obstruction of justice. These are the kinds of scenarios I would conjure to make it crystal clear to even very young students that this is what obstruction of justice looks like.
That said, it`s not clear if that if we`re talking about the president`s behavior here, that that is definitely illegal, if he did these things that are claimed.
MILLER: It depends what his intent was. The obstruction of justice statute depends if you`re act with a corrupt intent. If he was corruptly trying to get the FBI director to end that investigation and it seems like it was, both because of the fact that he asked him to do it and you can -- I think prosecutors would show he was trying to conceal it. The fact that he asked the vice president and attorney general to leave the room before he had the conversation.
And then I think the most important thing is, when it was clear the FBI director wasn`t going to make the investigation go away, here was going to expand it and issue new subpoenas, accelerate it, he was fired by the president. That to me looks like obstruction of justice.
There`s problems with that, though. One of the biggest problems is the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice has written opinions in the past saying that the president cannot be indicted. He`s the head of the execute branch. The executive branch can`t indict him.
MADDOW: Can`t be criminally indicted.
MILLER: Can`t be criminally indicted. So, it`s left to Congress. It`s left to Congress as a political act through impeachment. That is the real way to deal with this, if it is an obstruction of justice claim.
MADDOW: Let me ask you a technical question about that last point. If the Office of Legal Counsel is correct about that and there can be no criminal indictment against the president, the remedy is rather that Congress brings about effectively, a prosecution through the impeachment process.
Does that mean the investigative body who determines whether or not obstruction of justice was committed has to also be Congress or could the FBI be the investigating agency there referring for prosecuting, meaning impeachment in this case, to the relevant committees in Congress?
MILLER: I think they absolutely could. Congress will have to reach that conclusion on its own, but I suspect when Jim Comey was writing these memos about the president, he had in his mind building obstruction of justice case with the idea that some day these memos would be turned over to Congress.
MADDOW: Matt Miller, former Justice Department spokesman, MSNBC justice and security analyst -- it`s very helpful to have you here tonight, sir. Thank you.
MILLER: Thank you.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
All right. Much more ahead on this night of jaw-dropping news. Plus, a little more explanation on this exclusive reporting we`ve got tonight about a new subpoena being issued by federal law enforcement officials in these investigations into Trump -- the Trump campaign and Trump associates.
Big night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We have this other breaking news story tonight apart from the big bombshell reporting tonight by "The New York Times" that Donald Trump told then-FBI Director James Comey to end the FBI`s inquiry into his former national security adviser Mike Flynn.
The president has previously admitted openly in an interview with NBC`s Lester Holt just a few days ago that what was on his mind when he fired the FBI director was his own dissatisfaction with the Trump/Russia investigation. But this new reporting from "The Times" puts a much finer point on it with the director saying at least on the Mike Flynn part of the Trump/Russia investigation, the pressure to end the investigation was direct and it was personally delivered by the president in the Oval Office.
If this -- if this reporting tonight is true, we just hosted Eric Schmidt, the reporter from "The Times" to talk about how he came to this story and why "The Times" believed it was true in the light of the White House`s denial since it was published. If this was true, this would appear to be a blunt example of obstruction of justice. This would be like a ham-handed pageant designed to convey the definition of obstruction of justice.
Importantly, though, in this "New York Times" reporting, Michael Schmidt reports that Director Comey shared the memo with senior FBI officials. We just heard description from Michael Schmidt there that these memos were circulated by Comey, contemporaneously at the time to other top staffers at the FBI and he initialed them when he did it. And he did that, according to "The Times" because Comey and his top staffers perceived that conversation with the president as an effort by the president to impede the FBI`s investigation.
But, and this is important, at least in "The Times`" telling, Comey circulated the stuff among other senior FBI officials but he and those other senior FBI officials deliberately did not share the memo with the FBI agents who were actually working day-to-day on the Trump/Russia investigation. And that makes sense, right? Because if the president is trying to pressure the FBI on that inquiry, it makes sense that the FBI director might try to shield the agents doing that work from that pressure -- by not letting them know that that pressure was being exerted by the president directly in the Oval Office on the agency`s director.
So, according to "The Times" tonight, this pressure from the president that has been denied by the White House but is asserted by "The New York Times," reportedly with contemporaneously documentation from Comey. If that pressure happened, that pressure was not conveyed to the people who are doing the work of the investigation.
Now, we also know that despite that pressure, despite that reported February 14th meeting where the president allegedly told the director to kibosh the Flynn investigation, we also know from other independent sources that the investigation into Flynn wasn`t stopped by that meeting. That it continued past that point. We know that in part because of the reporting just last week that federal grand jury subpoenas have now been sent out to Flynn`s former business associates from the U.S. attorney`s office in Alexandria, Virginia. CNN was first to break that news last week. Our news organization has also since confirmed that report.
Tonight, what we`re reporting here exclusively is that another subpoena has been issued as part of the ongoing investigations into President Trump`s associates. Again, NBC News reporting exclusively tonight that federal investigators have subpoenaed records related to a $3.5 million loan taken out by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort last year. Now we do not know if this $3.5 million loan was improper or illegal. What we know is it`s part of a federal criminal investigation now.
On August 14th, last year, "The New York Times" reported that Trump`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort had turned up -- his name had turned up a ledger of secret payments, allegedly made by the political party controlled by Paul Manafort`s consulting client in Ukraine, a pro-Putin dictator called Viktor Yanukovych.
Now, the FBI is believed to be involved in Ukraine in what is basically a kleptocracy investigation. The FBI is believed to be involved in an investigation into what Yanukovych did with the money he appears to have stolen by the boat-load from the government of Ukraine. So, Paul Manafort being listed as a person earmarked to receive millions of dollars in this secret ledger from Yanukovych`s political party.
This, this back in August, this was the first inkling that FBI agents might soon be making Paul Manafort`s acquaintance. That was August 14th. Four days later, August 18th, NBC News reported on wider scrutiny of Paul Manafort`s business ties, including his multimillion-dollar involvement in interesting real estate deals involving Russia-connected billionaires and people with Donald Trump real estate connections. The day after NBC published that, Paul Manafort resigned as chairman of the Trump campaign.
But you know what? Interestingly, interestingly, that day was a busy day. The exact same day, he resigned from the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort also found time to register a holding company -- a holding company that ended up taking out a multimillion-dollar cash real estate loan. This particular loan was taken out against a home in the Hamptons, which is a swanky part of Long Island in New York.
NBC News reporters Tom Winter and Kenzi Abou-Sabe are citing a source familiar with the matter. They say that that loan, $3.5 million cash loan taken out against that house in the Hamptons, using a holding company that Paul Manafort registered the day he resigned from the campaign, that loan has attracted the attention of federal investigators. The subpoena related to this loan is part of a federal criminal investigation.
This is the second round of subpoenas we can confirm that we know have been issued concerning high-ranking members of the Trump campaign. They both involve money and business interest interests. The first one was about Mike Flynn. The second one is about Paul Manafort.
NBC reached out to Paul Manafort`s spokesman for comment on this reporting. He released this statement. Quote: Mr. Manafort has not been contacted by any authorities other than the U.S. Congress and officials responsible for FARA guidance, which is the Foreign Agent Registration Act. And he is cooperating with those inquiries.
Now, since they bring it up, since Paul Manafort`s spokesman is bringing up the Foreign Agent Registration Act, when he says that they`ve heard from officials responsible for FARA guidance, that means presumably they`ve heard from Justice Department officials about the Foreign Agent Registration Act and Paul Manafort potentially having to register under that act.
I should tell you that we have reported on this show that even though it has been widely reported and it is widely believed that Paul Manafort retroactively registered as a foreign agent after he left the campaign, in fact he has not done so. We`ve also reported this odd news out of the Justice Department which oversees the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
We`ve reported exclusively the news that the Justice Department refuses to say one way or the other if Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any legal investigations involving the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
They have said that Sessions is recused from things involving Mike Flynn. They will not say one way or the other about whether he is recused from things involving Paul Manafort.
In terms of this new subpoena tonight, NBC News has reached out to the venture capital firm that loaned Mr. Manafort that $3.5 million right after he left the Trump campaign. The firm has declined to comment. That firm is called Spruce Capital. It`s a subsidiary of Spruce Capital co-founded by someone who has partnered with Donald Trump on real estate deals in the past. Spruce Capital is also partly funded by a Ukrainian-American billionaire who tried on election day to make a donation to the Trump campaign that wildly exceed the maximum donation that is allowed.
So, this new news tonight comes after "The Wall Street Journal" reported this week that the Justice Department is looking into Manafort`s banking records. They`ve requested banking records from Citizens Financial Group. Citizens gave Manafort a $2.7 million loan last year on one of Manafort`s condos in Manhattan.
Manafort`s real estate deals in New York state are also reportedly being looked into by the New York attorney general`s office and by the Manhattan district attorney`s office. But again tonight, NBC News confirms a federal investigator -- excuse me, that federal investigators have issued a subpoena for records released to this loan taken out by Manafort last year. Right after, immediately after he left the Trump campaign under a cloud of suspicion about his ties to pro-Kremlin political figures in Ukraine.
Why did Paul Manafort leave the Trump campaign exactly when he did? What arrangement did he make with the Trump campaign about the terms of his leaving? Why did he do multiple, multimillion-dollar cash-heavy real estate deals in and around New York City immediately after the time when he left the Trump campaign?
And if federal investigators are now onto that, when it comes to Paul Manafort, does that create pressure for Paul Manafort to talk to investigators about anything else he knows that might be helpful for their broader inquiries? ]
What a night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`re getting reaction tonight from Congress to the news that President Trump reportedly told FBI Director James Comey to end the FBI investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn and "The New York Times" reporting that Director Comey took potentially corroborating notes on what the president said at the time, notes that have been seen by multiple people at the FBI.
Tonight, all 33 Democrats on the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee have signed a letter to the Republican chairs of those committees. And they are making a list of demands about how they believe Congress should respond to this new information. Quote: We are writing to request the Oversight Committee and Judiciary Committee launch an immediate joint investigation into whether President Trump and his top officials are engaged in an ongoing conspiracy to obstruct the criminal counterintelligence and oversight investigations currently being conducted by the FBI, the Justice Department and Congress into members of his presidential campaign and their contacts with Russian officials.
Again, this is from the Democratic members of the Oversight Committee and the Judiciary Committee and the House tonight. They say they want those committees to hold a public hearing immediately, including public testimony from Director Comey. They say they want a copy of all Director Comey`s memos relating to the president as well as all associated agency and White House records, including any audiotapes and notes if they exist.
Finally, they say they want an immediate vote on a motion to subpoena the White House to produce the documents it has been withholding in response to the oversight committee`s earlier request for documents related to Michael Flynn.
Well, tonight, NBC News -- I mentioned this at the top of she though. NBC News has reached the Republican chairman of one of those committees. Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz. It`s a phone conversation.
The audio quality of this is not great. The initial question to Jason Chaffetz was, what`s your reaction to the Comey memo? His first response was: if the memo exists, I need to see it, and I need to see it right away. We are drafting the necessary paperwork to get the memo so we will find out in a hurry.
The questioning and answers from Jason Chaffetz continued. We got a little piece of it here.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: I want to read the memo first, but on the surface, that seems like an extraordinary use of influence to try to shut down an investigation being done by the FBI. I don`t know if it`s true yet, but I want to find out if that`s actually out there.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Again, Congressman Jason Chaffetz who has subpoena power as the chairman of the Oversight Committee tonight saying he`s drafting the necessary paperwork to get the Comey memo. He says, I want to read the memo. I want to find out if this is actually out there.
NBC further followed up with him. You could subpoena these memos or you could subpoena James Comey? He responded, yes. I`m going to need to see it, and I`ll use every tool we have to get it.
That would imply that the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee who again has subpoena powers on these matters has already started taking action to get at least the Comey memo, if not Comey in person in front of Congress testifying about these remarkable allegations in "The New York Times."
And now in just the last hour or so, Congressman Chaffetz has written to the acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, asking for all memoranda, notes, summaries, recordings, referring to or related to communications between Comey and the president.
Again, I should tell you, Jason Chaffetz has subpoena power. He tells NBC tonight that he`s ready to use it. We`ll see if he does.
Joining us now is Congressman James Himes. He is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is also requesting any memos from Director Comey, as well as testimony from Comey himself.
Congressman Himes, really good to have you with us tonight. Thanks for being here.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTE: Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So you`ve been listening to this reporting as it`s developed over the course f the evening. I know you`ve seen "The New York Times" piece.
What`s your overall reaction to the magnitude of this allegation?
HIMES: Well, it`s nothing short of shocking, right? I mean, you know, and again, none of us have actually seen the memo, so we`ve got always have to say, if this memo is out there, and, of course, we will see it.
Look, we`re somewhere on a spectrum between very clear abuse of power. No surprise but abuse of power, and on the other extreme, obstruction of justice, and obstruction of justice is a very, very serious crime. So, we`ll need to see exactly what`s in the memo. And, of course, I would like to hear from Director Comey who -- whatever you think of Director Comey`s decision around the going public with the investigation, everything before -- I don`t think there`s anybody in Washington who says that Director Comey is a dishonest man.
MADDOW: If the allegations tonight in "The New York Times" are true, if the conversation that happened on February 14th was followed by Comey writing a memo that night, circulating it among top FBI officials, if not the agents working on the investigation directly. Initialed copies of that memo circulated so that other people have them, and it turns out that it is a credible allegation that the director is willing to stand by under oath in terms of saying what the president told him, you are describing that as an indication there may be obstruction of justice by the president here.
Is it your expectation that there could be a criminal indictment of the president on those charges, or is that something that wouldn`t be handled as a criminal matter and it would have to be handled as a prosecution in Congress, otherwise known as impeachment proceedings?
HIMES: Well, remember the entity that would prosecute the president would, of course, be the FBI. So, that`s a pretty awkward situation.
MADDOW: So, the Justice Department on the recommendation from the FBI, right? Yes.
HIMES: Yes. The Justice Department, of course, headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. So, let`s just put it this way. I`m not really confident that we would see this taken up as a criminal matter.
You know, typically, if you look back at the metaphor or the analogy that everybody is drawing with the Nixon administration, which at the end of the day wasn`t so much an issue of what actually happened at the Watergate complex. It was an issue of the president abusing his power, of obstructing justice.
The route you would go would be through the Congress of the United States. Here`s where the story I think turns ugly if you work where I do, which is, you know, Jason Chaffetz notwithstanding. Jason has already announced his retirement from the Congress of the United States. We are hearing lots of sort of chin rubbing concern and if the memo turns out to be true, this would be a serious matters.
But we are way, way -- we are not yet close to a point where the Republican members of the House of Representatives, the Republican members of the Senate are ready to seriously hold the president`s feet to the fire. The politics are just not at a point where that`s going to happen.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about one last matter, Congressman. I know that late today into this evening, you were briefed by CIA Director Mike Pompeo on some of the matters that have been in the news recently, particularly on the issue -- at least what we heard, going to touch on the issue of whether or not the president rightfully disclosed very secret and sensitive intelligence information to Russian diplomats last week in the Oval Office. I know you can`t tell us anything classified about that meeting.
But can you tell us whether you`re learning anything significant from director Pompeo and whether he`s being straight with your committee in terms of what the CIA knows?
HIMES: Well, you know, Mike Pompeo obviously has a lot of friends and a lot of respect on the members of the -- from the members of the Intelligence Committee since he was until very recently a member of that intelligence committee. And I`ll tell you, both sides of the aisle, we`ve got a lot of respect for Mike Pompeo. He`s got an enormously difficult job. Just stepping in to run an organization as large and as complicated as the CIA is very tough, much less under a president who has shown fair amount of disdain for that agency.
So, you know, I think the big question that Mike Pompeo was not in a position to answer, and over time, we will get the details, certainly behind closed doors of what was disclosed to the Russian foreign minister.
But I think the damage that Mike was not in a position to reflect on much was the damage that is done all over the world to people who might want to come forward to help the United States at great risk to themselves. And, by the way, that person could be somebody who wanted to become a source for the CIA who now is scratching their chin and saying, gosh, would I be safe if I did that? To, you know, services in places like Morocco or Jordan or Thailand who are, you know, ordinarily quite willing to work with the United States on all the things we do abroad against terrorism who may tonight be thinking, I have no assurance that if I give a very sensitive piece of information to Washington, that the president of the United States is not going to hand that over to Russia or to misuse that the things we do abroad against terrorism who may tonight be thinking, I have no assurance that if I give a very sensitive piece of information to Washington, that the president of the United States is not going to hand that over to Russia or to misuse that classified information.
At the end of the day, the damage that is done in that way could be much , much more severe than the damage that might be done to one source in the Middle East on the topic of, you know, thrust aviation. So, that`s something that those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about the intelligence community are very, very concerned about tonight.
MADDOW: Yes, and no longer a hypothetical concern, but a real concern -- where the damage -- where we know the damage has been done.
Congressman Jim Himes, who`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee - - great to have you with us tonight, sir. Thank you.
HIMES: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right, more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Before James Comey was fired, before the president allegedly told him to stop the FBI investigation into Mike Flynn and Russia, which is reported tonight in "The New York Times" before all that, James Comey was a colleague and a boss to a bunch of people at the FBI. One of them was a career FBI agent named Frank Montoya who started working at the bureau in 1991 and eventually became the special agent in charge of the bureau Seattle division. He just retired last September after 25 years of service.
In his job as the FBI Seattle division chief, he talked to his boss, James Comey, about once a week. Well, now, they`re both private citizens, although Frank Montoya`s boss obviously did not choose the terms of his departure from the FBI. And with this huge report from "The Times" tonight, the president told James Comey the FBI should shutdown its investigation into Mike Flynn, in this report that James Comey wrote that down at the time president told it to him.
One of the ways I want to figure this out is to find out if that makes sense, if that sounds like James Comey to people who worked for him and with him for a long time.
So, joining us now is Frank Montoya, former special agent in charge of the FBI Seattle division, where he worked under James Comey.
Mr. Montoya, thank you for your 25 years of service to the FBI, and thanks for being here tonight.
FRANK MONTOYA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Appreciate it. Greetings from Salt Lake City.
MADDOW: Tell me if this resonates with you, this idea that he might have made notes, initialed notes that he circulated to other high ranking FBI officials after a meeting in which he was troubled by what happened with that conversation with the president. Does that sound like him?
MONTOYA: Absolutely, 100 percent.
MADDOW: Do you know how he liked to take notes, by hand, on the computer, in -- by e-mail, on BlackBerry?
MONTOYA: Yes, you know, I think it would depend on the circumstance, when he would come out to the field office, for instance, he had an executive assistance, and oftentimes the executive assistant would take those notes. In a situation like that, some of it may be reliance on memory, but it would also be one of those things where he would go straight back to the office, and if he didn`t handwrite them, he would log on to the computer.
So, yes, it was definitely about keeping track of what was going on. We`re in extraordinary circumstances right now. I think that -- none of us were deaf to that even before the election and I think that, you know, after the election, it was -- especially with the investigations that were on going, this was really about doing the right thing.
This was about -- you know, keep in mind, too, he was a lawyer, high ranking government official and in the FBI. And we have a rule of thumb, that, you know, we always teach our young folks that, you know, if it happened and you didn`t write it down, then it didn`t happen.
MADDOW: Now, that Director Comey has been fired, can I ask you, do you have any idea what might happen to his notes and files within the FBI?
MONTOYA: Yes, I think there was some good comment earlier, I think from the "New York Times" reporter where, you know, this is information that he`s reporting on it, as a result of an official visit or official business, it`s going to belong to the FBI, as I see it. It`s going to be in the systems.
I mean, you know, he knew there was an ongoing investigation. Where this leads to, you know, whether it`s obstruction of justice or more likely, like some of your other guests have said, you know, heads in the direction of high crimes and misdemeanors, is potentially discoverable. It`s absolutely something that can be subpoenaed. So, it`s going to be in the system somewhere.
MADDOW: Frank Montoya, former special agent who worked under Comey, 25 years in the service in the bureau -- sir, thank you very much. I hope you`ll come back and join us here soon. I really appreciate you having here with us tonight.
MONTOYA: Good luck to you. Thanks a lot. Keep up the great work.
MADDOW: Thank you for saying so. Thanks.
I want to bring now into the conversation, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and the host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS", Andrea.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hi.
MADDOW: Andrea, it`s great to have you here. Let me ask you in the last couple of minutes that we`ve got here, what you can tell us about the way this "New York Times" story is being received, the political reaction to this tonight?
MITCHELL: Shock waves. You`re beginning to see a shift in the House but certainly in the Senate today, and the fact is the Republicans are beginning to waiver. They have real concerns, Jason Chaffetz, that`s really important, Cathy McMorris Rodgers. You saw what John McCain said tonight. He used the Watergate term.
And this is beginning to change because they`re all saying if this is true, they want to read the memo. So, I think once they see the memos themselves, we`ll hear from Comey directly. They`re not willing to take it on. It`s sending strong signals that they`re heeding and the ground is shifting under the Republicans in the House and Senate.
MADDOW: And, Andrea, we can`t ignore that this comes on the heels of yesterday`s also, unbelievable news, this confirmation that the president had given very secret, very sensitive information to the Russians in that strange Oval Office meeting. Do you think this affects the way this story about the Flynn investigation, that it comes so soon on the heels of what was the biggest imaginable break in this developing story?
MITCHELL: Precisely because people like McCain and Lindsey Graham and others, Bob Corker, are so suspicious of Russia and the fact that Lavrov was invited by the president`s own words to Lester Holt, was invited to the White House because Putin asked him to invite Lavrov to the White House. The fact that the president would freelance and, you know, just ad lib these comments, these are pros. They know how to handle classified information.
They know, as John McLaughlin, the former acting CIA director told me, you have a protocol for how you hand over information to the Russians is all scripted. You do not ad lib that.
MADDOW: Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS", a woman who works 25 hours a day in normal circumstances and right now is working inhuman hours, including these --
MITCHELL: Not nearly as much as you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you for being here, Andrea. I really appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. That does it for us for now. We`ll see you again as soon as something else happens.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence. Welcome back.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END