Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 25, 2017 Guest: Matt Zapotosky, Rachel McQuade
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
This is a little bit weird, but I need to start with a personal caveat this evening. I actually spent the day homesick. I came into work. I realized I was too sick to be here. I went and saw a doctor. And then on doctor`s advice, I went homesick.
I then came back in because of tonight`s breaking news, particularly because it is NBC News that is breaking part of it. But you can probably tell that I`m not -- I`m not at my best. Just as a human here, I have to tell you I`m a little bit of a mess. I`m on meds that make me out of it. I apologize for neither looking nor sounding nor being my best.
But you know, once in a lifetime, this story. When I got the call about this news, I really wanted to come in because I think this is important.
And here`s the contours, the very basic context of what just happened. This story, as far as I can tell, we`re going to confirm this with one of the reporters who broke this story in just a moment, but I think what we just learned tonight actually started on Friday night.
On Friday night, "The Washington Post" broke two important pieces of news. First, they reported that the FBI investigation into the Trump-Russia affair was focused in on money, on potential financial crimes committed by people close to the president. And, you know, before that was posted in "The Times" on Friday night, that point was sort of surmisable from some other things we had seen reported, like for example grand jury subpoenas for business records for the Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn.
Also, the reported involvement in the investigation of the Treasury`s financial crimes unit. So, we had some indications that money was becoming central to the FBI`s investigation, or at least to some of these investigations. But that "Washington Post" report on Friday night was the first direct, clear reporting we had that financial crimes are the point or at least a point of focus for the FBI. So, that was one thing "The Post" broke on Friday night.
The other scoop they had on Friday night was the other one that made the headline. Russia probe reaches current White House official, according to people familiar with the case. So, a person of interest in the Trump- Russia investigation, not just who was a Trump associate or worked in business with Trump or was part of the Trump campaign or is a fired official who used to be in the campaign, but somebody currently working in the White House at a very high level, working as a senior adviser to the president.
And in addition to that, the person who was the person of interest for the FBI`s investigation in the Trump-Russia probe is described as being someone, quote, being close to the president. That is what we had as of Friday night.
And now, NBC News reports that the person of interest has a name, and that name is Jared Kushner. Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser. He is the president`s son-in-law.
Unlike any other presidential family member in U.S. history, he has a vast policy portfolio. We`ve had, you know, a member of the president`s family in the cabinet before as attorney general. We`ve had a member of the president`s family working on a specific policy, Hillary Clinton working on health reform for Bill Clinton. We`ve had a lot of people do specific things for their family member who is a president.
But his policy portfolio is everything from Middle East peace to Mexico to China to all trade deals to broadband nationwide to the opioid crisis. I mean, kind of everything you can name has been described as Jared`s portfolio.
In more ways than one, he is a figure as close to the president and as close to the powers of the presidency as it is possible to be without being Donald Trump himself. So, NBC News reports tonight that Jared Kushner is now under scrutiny in the FBI`s Trump-Russia probe. This is according to multiple U.S. officials. Those officials telling NBC News tonight that Jared Kushner is a person of interest, which is a term that has no legal meaning, but people use it in the news all the time.
And to be clear about what that means, Mr. Kushner is under scrutiny. But that doesn`t mean that he is a suspect.
From NBC News reports, NBC News` report tonight, quote, investigators believe Jared Kushner has significant information relevant to their inquiry. That does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him. The officials said Kushner is in a different category from former Trump aides Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn who are formally considered subjects of the investigation.
So, Flynn and Manafort are subjects of the investigation. Jared Kushner, they believe, has useful information.
Now, NBC reports tonight that it remains unclear, quote, what precisely about Kushner`s activities has drawn the FBI`s interest. That said, NBC News had this story tonight. "The Washington Post" also had this story tonight, they also broke this story at basically the same time as NBC did.
I can tell you exactly minute to minute who put theirs out first, but I told you, I was homesick all day, and at the time these stories broke I was like this. On the couch until my phone rang. So I don`t know. Actually I think I hurt myself just doing that. Whew!
I can tell you in "The Washington Post`s" version they broke tonight, they add this, which is specifically. Quote, Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow, is being investigated because, because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians.
Now, all right, then. If possible financial crimes by people near the president is a focus of the FBI`s inquiries, and the extent and nature of Jared Kushner`s interactions with the Russians is why the president`s son- in-law has become a key person of interest in the investigation, what do we do with those two things? Does that mean necessarily that those two things are linked, financial crimes and links with the Russians, right? Does that mean there are financial elements of the way the Russians interacted with the Trump campaign that are suggesting possible cooperation or collusion? Are those two things connected?
If you follow the money, does that get you to the question of cooperation or collusion? Is that what we are getting closer to understanding tonight?
Now, we have known since last month that when Jared Kushner applied for his security clearance, he failed to disclose on his security clearance application dozens of contacts that he had with foreign officials, including meetings with Russian officials. We know that one of the meetings he did not disclose with the Russian official was with the Russian ambassador. But we also know that another one of the meetings he didn`t disclose was with a different Russian. We`ve talked about this on the show before. It seems like there is renewed focus on this aspect of Jared Kushner`s last few months, now that he seems to have risen to the top as a person of interest in the White House.
The meeting that he took, not with the Russian ambassador but with a different Russian official, had to do with a bank called VEB. VEB is basically a Russian state controlled bank. When I say it`s state- controlled, one of the things I mean about that specifically is Vladimir Putin used to chair the board of supervisors for the bank. Putin is known to direct the activities of VEB bank himself personally. Putin`s position at the head of that bank allowed him to use that bank to finance the Sochi Olympics construction, which of course was crazily, crazily over budget, the most expensive Olympics ever. That financing for that construction went through VEB Bank at Putin`s direction.
VEB also occupies a very interesting corner of the intelligence world. VEB is under sanctions by the United States government because of its links to and its facilitation of the activities of the Russian government. A top executive in VEB`s New York office just recently this year got out of federal prison in the United States. He had been serving time in Ohio after being convicted basically as serving as an undeclared Russian spy while he was purporting to work for VEB Bank in New York City. The charging documents against that spy showed that his spy ring had been trying to recruit Americans to become Russian agents. One of those targeted Americans was Trump campaign once upon a time foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
And one of the meetings with a Russian official, that presidential son-in- law Jared Kushner did not disclose on his application for security clearance was his meeting with the head of this bank. And the head of this bank himself has ties to Russian intelligence. And the head of this bank himself was personally tapped for that position running that bank just last year by Vladimir Putin himself. Putin installed this guy at the top of VEB last year. Then this guy after the election meets personally with Jared Kushner.
So, if up an investigator sifting through curious collisions of proper names in the Russia-Trump investigation, you would have Jared Kushner and the Russian ambassador. A lot of people have meetings that they didn`t disclose with the Russian ambassador. But you would also have this other thing that other people don`t seem to have, which is Jared Kushner and this state-controlled Russian bank that`s linked to the Russian intelligence services.
If you`re an investigator, you`ve already got like string tied between those two tacks on your bulletin board. You might also remember that just last week, "The Wall Street Journal" reported a new piece of information about that bank, about VEB bank, and its previously unreported ties to the Trump organization.
"Wall Street Journal" reported just last week that VEB pumped millions of dollars into Trump`s business partner in a big Trump-branded Toronto building that has had lots of financial difficulties. So, now, we have, according to NBC News and "The Washington Post," we have Jared Kushner named as the focus of the FBI investigation inside the White House, not described as a suspect, not necessarily accused of any wrongdoing, but apparently a person of interest to investigators.
We also just moments ago -- wait, wrong direction, I told you I`m a little bit out of it -- just moments ago we got this statement from Jared Kushner`s lawyer. I want to give it to you verbatim.
Statement from Jared Kushner`s lawyer. It`s very to the point. Quote: Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings -- meaning the Russian meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.
I think the last "if" there is doing a lot of work. The statement from Jared Kushner`s lawyer tonight suggesting, if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry that if I think suggests Mr. Kushner has not yet been contacted by the FBI in the Trump-Russia investigation. One of the unanswered questions we`ve had is whether anyone in the White House has had an FBI interview since inauguration or even during the transition other than the now-fired national security adviser Mike Flynn. We still don`t know the answer to that. We have a hint from Mr. Kushner`s lawyer tonight that Jared Kushner has not spoken with the FBI, at least not yet.
Joining us now from "The Washington Post" newsroom is Matt Zapotosky. He covers Justice Department for "The Post". He`s one of four heavyweight reporter bylines on "The Post"| story about Jared Kushner being a focus for the FBI and Russian investigation.
Mr. Zapotosky, thanks for making time for us. Congratulations on this.
MATT ZAPOTOSKY, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you, and thanks for coming in on what probably should have been a day off.
MADDOW: Yes, I know. I hope you can`t tell, other than the fact that I said it.
Matt, part of the reason I wanted to talk to you is you were also bylined in the really big story in "The Post" on Friday night that reported there was a person of interest in the Trump-Russia investigation who is working as a senior White House adviser. Should we see your story tonight as essentially a part two? Friday you said there was a person of interest, and now, you are naming the person. Do these two things fit together that way?
ZAPOTOSKY: Yes, definitely, the person we referred to last week is Jared Kushner. We`ve done a lot more reporting to lock down that that person is Jared Kushner.
We`ve also done more reporting to lock down at least one component of what they`re interested in, which is these December meetings.
You mentioned financial crimes. Financial crimes are a part of this. I think we`re one step short of where you want to go, which is that they suspect some financial wrongdoing on Jared Kushner. I, like your reporters, would stop short of saying there is -- that he`s a suspect in this, but there`s a definitely a lot of reason to be interested in him.
MADDOW: Let me be specific on that. I certainly -- I don`t want to -- I don`t want to go anywhere that the facts don`t indicate. And that`s what I`m just trying to be super clear on that.
So, you guys have reporting that says financial crimes are of interest. And you guys have reporting that says Jared Kushner is a person of interest in the Trump-Russia investigation. But we don`t actually have any information as to whether or not the interest in him is driven by financial crimes or potential financial crimes?
ZAPOTOSKY: Yes, that`s absolutely right. Now, we`re not saying it`s not. But we`re not saying that we`re there yet. We`re not connecting the financial crimes piece of this directly to Jared Kushner.
There are other folks in the investigation who you mentioned, Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, who maybe are more obvious on that front, though Kushner has been involved in some interactions that maybe would get your feelers up a little bit. But, yes, that`s exactly right, we`re not yet connecting the financial crimes piece of this to Kushner.
MADDOW: Now, Matt, you also said you`ve been able to do more reporting so that you can name him. The Justice Department is not commenting on this at all. Obviously, everybody has been chafing this story as hard as they can. Once you guys said person of interest in the White House, everybody has been trying to figure out who it is.
Do you suspect this is the sort of thing where either the FBI or the justice department would ever make a public statement about this, if he does become a target of the investigation which I know you`re not saying he is now, if he did become a target, would we expect him to be -- him or his lawyers to be notified of that fact? Is that how this works?
ZAPOTOSKY: In some investigations, they will send what`s called a target letter to people and say, hey, you are the target of this investigation. I`m not sure if it would work that way here. It will all be up now to Bob Mueller, who is a former FBI director, who is the special counsel that`s leading this thing now.
Historically, he has been pretty tight-lipped about everything. So if Jared Kushner were to become the target of the investigation, I doubt that he would sort of go to Congress or go to the public and say, quick update, you know, Jared Kushner is the target.
MADDOW: OK. It seems likely that investigators might be interested in those meetings that Kushner held in December with a Russian official, the head of a Russian-state-run bank that`s close to Putin. If they`re interested in his interactions with Russians, we know about that. You guys are also reporting that FBI agents have been looking more closely at earlier exchanges between Trump associates and Russians that date back a long time earlier, to spring 2016. What can you tell us at all -- what can you tell us if anything, about those meetings?
ZAPOTOSKY: Yes, so there`s one in particular, this April 2016, I can`t even call it a meeting, but there`s an event at the Mayflower Hotel where Kushner is at and Sessions is at and Kislyak is at. And we don`t know exactly to what extent if any that Kushner and Kislyak interact at this thing. But what we do know is that investigators are interested in this April event. We`re not exactly sure why right now, but we think that`s important because the broad strokes of this investigation are coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the campaign.
And April is, you know, before the election. The December meetings are all after the election. And the people who would defend Kushner would say, well, look, he is the president`s top foreign policy guy. He`s sort of a transition official at that point. He`s well within his rights to be having meetings or conversations with foreign dignitaries. Maybe a little weird to be having them with a Russian banker and the Russian ambassador, given what Russia just did with our election, but they would say, look, he`s within his rights to do that.
The pre-election meeting maybe is of interest because it`s, you know, during the campaign. We`re not really sure, although we are told that that April meeting is of investigative interest, or that April event, I should say.
MADDOW: Fascinating and super clear. Matt Zapotosky, covering the Justice Department for "The Washington Post," bylined on tonight`s big "Washington Post" story about Jared Kushner being a person of interest in this investigation -- Matt, congratulations again on this report. I appreciate you being here.
ZAPOTOSKY: Thanks, Rachel.
I want to bring into the conversation now Barbara McQuade. She served as U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan for more than seven years. She is one of the U.S. attorneys who was asked to resign by President Trump this past March very suddenly. Ms. McQuade has extensive experience prosecuting a lot of different kinds of high profile cases.
Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I really appreciate it.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me ask you first about these terms we`re throwing around which I bet make you cringe as a former U.S. attorney. Person of interest is a term that I know has no formal legal meaning. It`s used a lot in journalism to indicate that investigators sort of have a bead on somebody. They may not be about to charge them with anything, they may not even suspect them of wrongdoing, but they are interested in that person.
Is that the right way to understand that? Is there better language that we should use around being more specific in that regard?
MCQUADE: Well, we never use that term in law enforcement. I can understand why it`s used in media, because you don`t know exactly what category someone falls under. The three general categories that someone like this might be falling under right now in sort of increasing order of seriousness would be, number one, just a witness. It may be that he has information, that he attended meetings, that he participated in conversations that might be useful to the investigation.
The next level would be subject of the investigation. That`s somebody whose conduct might fall under the scope of the investigation. They may or they may not be charged at some point. And then the most serious is someone who is a target of the investigation. That usually comes later in the investigation, after a substantial amount of evidence has been gathered, and the prosecutor believes that the person is a likely defendant.
MADDOW: Somebody at the stage of targeting, not suspicion, but somebody who is at the stage that we believe Jared Kushner is at here, would a person in that role expect to be notified by the FBI or notified by investigators that investigators wanted to speak with him, that they were a potential witness, that they were thought to have information that might be of use?
MCQUADE: Yes. I think at some point. Based on the reporting I`ve heard, they say he`s not in the same category as Flynn and Manafort who are subjects. He is in a lesser category.
So it sounds to me that they`re at the moment considering him to be a witness. And if so, the first step would be to see if he would voluntarily produce documents or sit for an interview. And if someone won`t do that voluntarily, the next step is to issue a subpoena which would require him to come in and testify before a grand jury.
MADDOW: And in terms of this case, if this has been reported, if he is potentially a witness for the FBI investigation, who would issue that subpoena? Would that be from Robert Mueller who is overseeing the investigations, would that go through a U.S. attorney`s office?
MCQUADE: It sounds like the investigation is being run out of the U.S. attorney`s office for the eastern district of Virginia, which may are the place where venue is appropriate for this investigation. So, typically it would be that office. It`s actually issued under the authority of the grand jury. But it`s the U.S. attorney`s office that does the paperwork and prepares the document and sends it out.
MADDOW: One other point raised by raised by Mr. Kushner`s lawyer this evening is that he has already previously stated that he would be happy to cooperate with and happy to appear before the Senate intelligence committee which is investigating these matters. Jamie Gorelick, the lawyer tonight, said he would be happy to talk to anybody else involving any other inquiry.
In terms of whether or not Jared Kushner might appear before any of the congressional committees who are investigating this, would we expect that Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the FBI investigations, would have to okay that, that it`s something that if we had been expecting Jared Kushner to testify in Congress before, maybe right now this means he`s less likely to?
MCQUADE: Well, he doesn`t necessarily have to okay it. But there`s certainly a tension between those things. If I`m Robert Mueller, I would rather have the first crack at any witness, including Jared Kushner, so that he`s not telling multiple stories in multiple forums. But I can`t prohibit him from testifying. If he goes before Congress to testify, he may be concerned that his statements there could be used against him in the criminal investigation.
And so, it may be that he invokes his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself before the grand jury to protect him from criminal prosecution down the road. So, those two different investigations proceeding on parallel tracks creates some tension and challenges.
MADDOW: And create a need for all of us civilians to re-look-up the word over and over again the word "de-conflict" which doesn`t exist in nature but does exist for that purpose.
Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, thank you very much for walking us through this. I really appreciate your help.
MCQUADE: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We got much more ahead tonight.
NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss is here, chomping at the bit for a very good reason. Also, we got an exclusive tonight. We think we have solved a mystery about the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
That is ahead for us tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: One thing that President Richard Nixon had going for him in Watergate was a whole cast of characters in the Nixon administration who had various degrees of involvement in or knowledge of Watergate. And that ultimately had its downsides. But for a while there, that really helped keep Nixon afloat, because one after the other, he tried to throw those people to the wolves to save himself.
Don`t blame me, blame the assistant to the president for domestic affairs, John Ehrlichman. Don`t blame me, blame my chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. Let me alone, take my White House counsel, John Dean, instead.
Yes, I know you would like to burn me at the stake, but here, I offer you my own attorney general, I have tied to the stake for you and here is a commemorative lighter with which you may want to burn him.
Nixon tried to save his own bacon by cutting loose and then blaming stuff on a whole succession of government staffers who found themselves more or less mixed up in his Watergate mess. What would he have done, though, if it had been his own family who had been caught up in his Watergate mess? Would he have cut them off too? Separated himself off from them too? Tried to throw them under the bus to save himself too?
Can a president, you know, even try? Can a president even attempt cutting off his own son-in-law? A man married to his daughter, once we`ve learned that is the person of interest in the FBI`s investigation? And while I think we can all appreciate this real-time, real life lesson in why we have those nepotism laws after all, is there anything else like this in our history? Is there any precedent for this that can tell us what to expect as to what`s going to happen next?
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian who knows these things.
Michael, thank you for being with us tonight. Appreciate it.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: So we have had presidential family members involved in governing before.
BESCHLOSS: We have.
MADDOW: Hillary Clinton, the health care task force. Robert Kennedy as attorney general, he was in the cabinet.
But looking at presidents under investigation, looking at this particular twist of nepotism in the Trump administration, is there anything like this at all that we can learn from in our history?
BESCHLOSS: Well, there`s nothing like this even in the investigation. We`ve had presidents for 228 years. I don`t think we`ve ever had a family member as powerful as Jared Kushner in a formal role at the top of the White House staff. So, that`s number one.
And we`ve now got a special prosecutor. That raises the possibility we`ll see what we saw during Watergate which was prosecutors trying to pit those aides that you mentioned, Haldeman and Ehrlichman and others against Nixon. But now, you`ve got the spectacle, something we have never seen before in two centuries, of the possibility of a son-in-law being pitted against his father-in-law.
MADDOW: There`s nothing legally, is there, that is an additional complication. I mean, I know that there are rules about spouses testifying against one another. Those things don`t apply beyond that immediate familial relationship, right?
BESCHLOSS: No, I think that`s exactly right. So, if Jared Kushner knows things that the prosecutors want, they will go to extraordinary lengths to find those things out, and especially if they`re aiming at his father-in- law.
MADDOW: Michael, when we look at other presidential family members who have made the news in unflattering ways, and there have definitely been a lot of brothers, I`m thinking in particular, who have made the news in unflattering ways. Have presidents in the past been able to or even tried to distance themselves from family members who got either into embarrassing things or potentially really scandalous things?
BESCHLOSS: Well, they have a little bit. I mean, for instance, Richard Nixon had a brother, Donald Nixon, who was dragged in in a tiny way in the water scandal having to do with money. But it actually was distant enough from Nixon that he didn`t have to sort of fib about it.
And you`ve had Billy Carter, sort of the same thing, questions about dealings with Libya. But a president could credibly say, this was my brother.
But when a guy is your son-in-law and he is sitting next to you in the Oval Office and appears at every important event including this trip that Donald Trump has just been on, awfully hard for the president to say, you know, I barely know the guy.
MADDOW: NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss -- Michael, thank you for being here in helping us put this in context.
BESCHLOSS: Feel better, we need you.
MADDOW: I`ll do my best.
MADDOW: Thank you.
Much more ahead on this very busy news night, including the possibility that the House might pass out at any moment. You don`t get that on every cable news show. It`s exclusive, right here.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: So the big news tonight, that Jared Kushner, the president`s son- in-law, is a person of interest in the FBI investigation into the Trump- Russia affair, that news relates to the FBI, to special counsel Robert Mueller`s criminal probe into the Trump administration`s ties with Russia and any potential cooperation by the Trump campaign into the Russia attack.
Meanwhile, the ongoing congressional investigations into the same affair are also looking for answers in their own way. But we now know as of today, they are not getting their answers anymore. At least they`re not getting them on deadline.
Today, the Justice Department told the House Oversight Committee that it will not hand over some documents that the committee had requested be turned over by yesterday. The deadline was yesterday. The documents didn`t turn up by yesterday. Today, we got this explanation from the FBI.
The Oversight Committee had asked to see any memos written by former FBI Director James Comey detailing his conversations with President Trump. These are the memos that were described to "The New York Times" last week that purportedly documented attempts by President Trump to tell the FBI director that he should shut down the FBI`s investigation of Mike Flynn.
If those Comey memos in fact exist, lots of people would like to see them. But those memos we now know will remain a mystery for the time being, because now the FBI has told Congress that they are not going to hand them over. They missed that deadline deliberately, because now there`s a special counsel who`s overseeing the FBI investigations and they`re going to have to ask him, they`re going to have to ask Robert Mueller before they hand over anything.
So, if you were looking forward to that being leaked instantly as soon as those memos were handed over to Congress, those memos aren`t getting handed over to Congress, at least anytime soon.
On top of that, though, there is one mystery about James Comey`s firing and the question of whether or not that was the president trying to obstruct justice in the Trump-Russia investigation. There`s one piece of that that we think we`ve solved tonight. We`ve got that exclusive, next, right after this break.
MADDOW: So, we`ve got some new information in the Trump-Russia investigation. It is not a blockbuster revelation but I think it`s important and clarifying. It`s about a key part of the behavior of the Trump administration with regard to the FBI since Trump has been in office. So, not during the campaign but since the inauguration.
And I think what is widely believed to have happened, what is widely believed to have -- actually widely reported to have happened at this key point in time, what we think we know about it I think is wrong. I think we can correct that record tonight.
So just settle in for a second and follow this through with me. First of all, there are two things that we know for sure the FBI is investigating. And we know for sure because the FBI has said so publicly. Then there is a third thing that we believe the FBI is investigating but we don`t actually know for sure. What we know for sure about what the FBI is investigating, we know because James Comey said so publicly in Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, THEN-FBI DIRECTOR: I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI as part of our counterintelligence mission is investigating the Russian government`s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia`s efforts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, that was their one and only public statement. And that means there are two things we know for sure from public information that the FBI is investigating.
There is also another thing we believe they`re investigating. As you just heard Comey say, the two things the FBI confirms they`re looking into are number one, the Russian government`s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Number two, the nature of any links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, including that question of whether anyone in the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians. We know those two investigations are under way at the FBI.
After James Comey was fired, those investigations started being overseen by the acting director of the FBI who they promoted to replace Comey, Andrew McCabe. And then once the special counsel was appointed, the guy who took over running those investigations is Robert Mueller, former director of the bureau who has authority not only to investigate what happened but to bring charges if he sees fit.
And we know from the order that appointed Mueller to that role that the investigations he`s overseeing are those investigations you just heard Comey describe to Congress there on that day back in March.
But there is another matter that is widely believed to also be the subject of FBI investigation. We don`t know for sure, because the FBI hasn`t said. But it is widely believed that they may also be looking into the issue of obstruction of justice. We believe the Justice Department may be investigating this through their inspector general`s office, but that is not confirmed. We also believe that the Robert Mueller led investigations may include obstruction of justice issues.
The order naming him as special counsel says he`ll investigate any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign. But then right after that, it also says he may investigate, quote -- do we have that? Yes -- any matters that arose or may arise directly from that investigation.
So we believe, we don`t know but we believe that matters that may arise directly from that investigation may include the possibility of the Trump transition, the Trump administration, even potentially the president himself, trying to obstruct justice, trying to pervert or impede or stop the initial investigation into whether or not Trump and his campaign worked with the Russians.
So, the first thing we know the FBI is investigating, the Russian attack on our election, we already know a lot about that as civilians, right? The intelligence community has put out two public reports on that, one back in October and an extensive one in January.
The second thing that`s definitely being investigated by the FBI, this possibility of the Trump campaign helping the Russians in their attack or cooperating in it, we know more and more about that possibility all the time. Investigators and journalists every day track down more and more information about the inordinate and bewildering number of contacts between Trump campaign figures and Russian officials during the course of the campaign and thereafter. That`s where the real drama is in terms of the day to day reporting on this scandal.
But here is where I think it`s time to get real about what that means. The Russian attack on the election was an attack by a foreign power on the United States for sure. That may or may not be a crime. Possibly it is. Maybe it is. But we don`t really know and we don`t know what crime that would be. It`s a fairly unique circumstance, right?
Beyond that, beyond just the Russians attacking, the question of some American, any American cooperating in that attack by a foreign power -- well, obviously that shocks the conscience. It could conceivably be treason to the extent that it meant that the perpetrators adhered to enemies of the United States.
But honestly, I`m not sure where something like that goes in terms of potential criminal charges, right? If that collusion and cooperation happened between the Trump campaign and the Russians, if it is provable, is it a crime for U.S. persons to do something like that?
Maybe. I don`t know. There`s a lot of arguing about it. But I`m not sure it`s perfectly clear in terms of it being a prosecutable offense.
It would certainly have a good likelihood of being an impeachable offense if it was a public official who did it. But consider who you would be counting on there to save the republic. Yes.
But that`s why the last point of investigation is important there. The possibility of investigating obstruction of justice, because obstruction of justice brightly, obviously, clearly is a crime. And we believe the FBI is investigating the possibility of that crime related to the Russia investigation. We don`t know for sure but we think they are. If they are, of course, they have a wealth of avenues to choose from.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions breaking his recusal from all issues on the Trump campaign to nevertheless participate in the firing of James Comey who was leading the investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign. Or there`s the matter of the White House chief of staff reportedly pressuring FBI Director Comey to make public statements about the FBI investigation to try to exonerate the administration.
There`s the president himself reportedly pressuring FBI Director James Comey to make public statements about the FBI Trump-Russia investigation to try to exonerate the administration. There is the president himself reportedly asking the director of national intelligence and the director of the NSA to make public statements about the investigation to try to exonerate the administration.
There is the matter of senior White House officials reportedly asking intelligence officials of some stripe to intervene with Director Comey to tell him to stop the FBI investigation into Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn. There is the president himself reportedly asking Director Comey to let go, to let go that FBI investigation into Mike Flynn. There is the president himself firing the FBI director and later, making statements both to a news organization, NBC News, and to Russian officials in the Oval Office that the reason he did so, the reason he fired Comey was because of the pressure he felt over the Russia investigation.
There is also what appear to be potentially knowingly false statements by multiple Justice Department officials and White House officials, including the vice president himself about why Director Comey was fired. There`s also efforts by Justice Department officials to create a false pretext for why Director Comey was fired. There is also what appear to be knowingly false statements about what the White House and the transition knew about national security adviser Mike Flynn and when they knew it.
So it`s not like there`s any shortage of avenues, right, to drive down if what you`re trying to prove is obstruction of justice. All of those things may be part of any ongoing investigation into whether the president and this administration obstructed justice in the Trump-Russia investigation. There`s a ton.
But here`s one that maybe should not be seen as one of those avenues. On May 10, the day after James Comey was fired, "The New York Times" reported that less than a week before he was fired, the FBI director had asked the Justice Department for more resources in the Russia investigation.
Quote: Days before he was fired as FBI director, James Comey asked the Justice Department for more prosecutors and other personnel to accelerate the bureau`s investigation into Russia`s interference in the presidential election.
That was "The Times"` first reporting. Similar versions were reported by multiple media outlets including NBC News.
But from the beginning, there was this interesting thing. The Justice Department insisted emphatically that it was not true, that this claim that James Comey had asked for more resources, they said it was totally false, 100 percent false, there was absolutely no request.
And honestly, I will tell you personally, I don`t trust official denials any further than I can throw them, particularly these days, but there was just something not just insistent but instant, insistent, and consistent, just emphatic, about the Justice Department denials on this. And then the acting director of the FBI, under oath, said he knew of no such request by Director Comey for more resources for the Trump-Russia investigation in the days before he was fired, and then the deputy attorney general testified emphatically to Congress that he knew of no request for James Comey for more resources in the Trump-Russia investigation before he was fired, and Rod Rosenstein was the one who reportedly was asked for these resources.
So, it was this unbroken string of consistent denials from the Department of Justice, no, he did not ask for more resources before he was fired. But all these media outlets, and the press has been really good and aggressive on this story and -- which is it? Because the Justice Department seems very sure. But there`s all those news reports with multiple sources saying he did.
Did James Comey try to speed up and get more resources for the Trump Russia investigation right before they fired him or didn`t he?
Last week, we chased the Justice Department on this a little. We asked them -- we asked them, quote, is the DOJ saying no requests were made for anything, period?
And we got the following on the record reply. Quote, none, period. No gray area.
Now, we think we may have figured this out, at least part of it. It is my belief based on our extensive reporting on this that what went wrong here is there was something akin to a game of telephone on Capitol Hill. And the relaying of information on this point from person to person resulted in these seemingly irreconcilable reports on what James Comey did or didn`t ask for the Trump investigation right before Trump fired him.
What we know is this, the day before he was fired, May 8th, FBI Director James Comey did meet with the leaders of the Senate intelligence committee with Republican Chairman Richard Burr and Democratic Vice Chairman Mark Warner. According to multiple sources, the three of them met privately. It was just the three of them in the room.
And here`s where things start to splay out. Because in the meeting, it appears there was a discussion about the pace and the progress of the FBI`s inquiry into Trump Russia. It seems in the course of that discussion, Director Comey brought up the confirmation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in late April in a way that suggested or maybe gave the impression to the senators that the investigation might now proceed on a faster track.
What we have since learned through our sources is that Senators Warner and Burr relayed the basic content of that conversation to fellow members of the Intelligence Committee, as they are right to do, as you would expect them to do as leaders of that committee. But from there, after they conveyed that information to members of their committee, that word started to spread. And that resulted in multiple press reports that Comey had asked for more resources just days before he was fired, this claim that continues to be denied by the Justice Department.
Now, what exactly James Comey asked for if anything, again, we do not know. James Comey does not talk to me.
We know that Director Comey last met in person with Rod Rosenstein one week earlier on May 1st. We think that meeting took place at the Justice Department. We think it took place in the presence of staffers. What exactly was discussed in that meeting, we do not know.
But the Department of Justice Deputy AG, Rod Rosenstein, and the current acting director of the FBI have all said no request for resources were made in that meeting or at any other time.
A week later, Comey briefed those two senators which then following Comey`s subsequent firing led to multiple press reports that Comey had asked for something. From what we understand, if a request was made, it was more like -- likely more a nebulous -- it was a more nebulous thing than a direct appeal for more money or more personnel.
To the extent that obstruction of justice ends up being the sharpest point on all of the arrows that Robert Mueller is going to have in his quiver, I think it is worth being very specific about what evidence we`ve got about potential obstruction of justice by the White House and by the president.
And on this point of whether or not Comey, at the moment he was fired, had just asked for more resources for the investigation, I think that is being sourced mostly to congressional sources or to people who got their information from congressional sources. I think those congressional sources thought they were conveying a true thing, and I think because of a game of telephone, it is possible that they conveyed something that had much sharper point on it than what actually happened between James Comey and the Justice Department.
And I will leave there it because that`s exactly what I know, and I know nothing more than that. But, boy, is it than that we get this story right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Front pages. "The Billings Gazette" and "The Great Falls Tribune": Reporter says Gianforte body slammed me. "The Bozeman Daily Chronicle": Gianforte charged with assault. Here is the "Missoulian": Gianforte cited for misdemeanor assault.
Today, a whole bunch of newspapers beyond those front pages, a bunch of newspapers that once endorsed Greg Gianforte for Congress, they rescinded their endorsements today on Election Day. I wonder if it`s too late.
This is a fallout of the news that broke last night that Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly physically assaulted a reporter named Ben Jacobs from "The Guardian", last night before the election that Gianforte is running in. Ben Jacobs made an audio recording of the incident that seems to back up his claim that the candidate assaulted him basically out of nowhere while Jacobs was asking him question about health care.
But Gianforte`s campaign released a statement saying it was basically the opposite, that Ben Jacobs apparently assaulted Greg Gianforte, that he grabbed his wrists, and the two of them ended upped on the ground together. And it was the reporter`s aggressive behavior that lead to the altercation.
It`s worth noting that Ben Jacobs` account was backed up not only by his audio recording, but by an eyewitness account from other people in the room, namely a FOX News correspondent and camera crew. And also late last night, the Montana sheriff for that county charged the Republican candidate, charged Greg Gianforte, charged him with misdemeanor assault for allegedly body slamming the reporter. It should be noted that that sheriff is campaign donor to Mr. Gianforte.
Now, this all happened just hours before the polls opened for that special election. They open this morning at 7:00 a.m. local time.
Here is the thing, though. Even before the news broke about Gianforte allegedly physically attacking this reporter and getting criminally charged for it, this race was already generating huge interest, right? This was a race to replace Ryan Zinke, who has become secretary of the interior. It`s the race between a Republican and a Democrat in a state that Donald Trump won by 20 points.
Today on the heels of the body slam, on the heels of the assault charge, Democrats responded by actually putting out a last-minute radio add that used Ben Jacobs` audio from the incident. The fact that the DCCC jumped on making that ad as fast as they did and got it out for election day shows you how much is at stake here, how hard the two sides are competing.
Before last night, the polls were already closer than you would expect from a state that Trump won by 20 points. It`s unclear how this last-minute wild card will affect the race. But polls closed eight seconds ago. It`s probably going to be a long night as we wait for those results, but a fascinating one.
That does it for us tonight, at least for now. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Joy Reid, sitting in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Joy.
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