Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: June 6, 2017 Guest: Adam Entous, Michael Isikoff
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: And now, I can get to see something I`ve been a while to say, which is that THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Rachel Maddow.
Welcome back. We have been eagerly -- we`ve been sending you good thoughts and eagerly anticipating your return.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thank you, my dear. It has been -- it is -- I have been away for a very long time in cable news time, but even in normal human time, it has felt like a very, very long time and I have missed this crossover with you every night. I`ve missed being here.
HAYES: It`s great to have you back.
MADDOW: Thanks, my friend. Thanks for doing that.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. I am back. I want to say a big thank you to Ali Melber and to Joy Ann Reid for filling in for me while I was sick this last week and a half to almost two weeks.
Thank you to everybody here on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW who worked so hard to keep everything running in my absence.
I want to thank my bosses, Phil Griffin and Andy Lack, for their understanding while I was out sick at a quite inopportune time, yes. I want to say thanks to all of you who said nice things and wish me well and told me you were praying for me while I was out. I am OK.
I`m not totally well, as you can probably tell, but I am like I don`t know, 90 percent of the way back. Jackie would you say I`m 90 percent? Close to -- close to 90. We`ll see.
I`m certainly well enough to be here tonight covering the news, and as grateful as I have ever been to have a job like this.
All right. So, great to be back, and because we have to begin tonight, naturally, the universe has welcomed me back with late breaking Trump- Russia news -- news that has just broken in "The Washington Post" within the last hour.
According to tonight`s "Washington Post", yet another senior serving national security official in the U.S. government has reportedly now told associates that the president directed him, the president told him to intervene with the FBI to try to stop the Trump-Russia investigation.
When James Comey, the FBI director was fired by the White House, we first got a song-and-dance from the White House about all sorts of other reasons why he might have been fired, the president then soon admitted that he had the Trump-Russia investigation on his mind when he fired FBI Director James Comey. We soon thereafter learned that James Comey had told associates he had committed to writing, he had written in a memo and told other senior people at the FBI that the president had told him to stop the Trump-Russia investigation, to lay off the Mike Flynn part of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Again, not only saying that the president had told him that, but saying crucially that contemporaneously at the time he had made a note of it, he had made a written note of it and he had told other people that the president had made this wildly inappropriate request to him. We knew that already about James Comey. Now, yet another senior official in the Trump administration apparently went through the same thing and told people contemporaneously that the president had directed him to try to stop the FBI investigation.
There`s a remarkable advance in the news. We started this week waiting for the Comey testimony, waiting for James Comey to testify on Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Everybody parked at the edge of their seats, right, waiting to hear what the former FBI director will say about his -- these reported claims that President Trump, in fact, asked James Comey to call off the investigation into Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn in terms of the Trump-Russia connection.
Colleagues and friends of James Comey say that he described contemporaneously to them these requests from the president to stop the Trump-Russia investigation. They say Mr. Comey wrote detailed memos about those conversations with the president. On Thursday morning, James Comey will testify before the Senate about those alleged conversations. It`s kind of hard to wait, right? But to help with that tonight, we have this bombshell new report from "The Washington Post".
It`s very similar in terms of its structure to these allegations from James Comey that the president asked him to stop the Trump-Russia investigation and that he recorded it contemporaneously in writing with those memos. We`ll hear from him on Thursday about that presumably.
But the new reporting tonight from "The Washington Post", again just out in the last hour, concerns not James Comey but the nation`s top intelligence official, the Director of National Intelligence appointed by President Trump, former Senator Dan Coats.
You might remember from late last month, "The Washington Post" reporting that the president had asked Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, and also a head of the NSA, Admiral Mike Rogers, for their help in trying to get the FBI to back off the investigation. "The Post" saying he -- the president had made a made appeals to Dan Coats and Mike Rogers, quote, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the election.
In the case of the NSA director, Mike Rogers, that request from the president was reportedly documented contemporaneously in an internal memo, meaning the president asked NSA Director Mike Rogers to make a public statement saying that the Trump campaign and Russia, there had been no collusion. When that request was made to Admiral Mike Rogers, Mike Rogers reportedly recorded that in an internal memo.
A source later told NBC News that Dan Coats and Mike Rogers actually talked to each other about those requests they`ve had from the president. They exchanged notes, the two of them about their conversations with the president and his reported requests that they make public statements to kibosh the Trump-Russia investigation.
Now, the idea that the president had asked the head of the NSA, the Director of National Intelligence had asked them to help quash the investigation, and had asked them to, you know, pour public cold water on the investigation, these reports that the intelligence chiefs then potentially, you know, they not only spoke to each other about them, but that made them potentially corroborating witnesses to each other`s experiences with the president, those were, you know, red hot reports on their own. Not incidentally those reports made for the best nine seconds of video, so far, in this entire Trump-Russia story.
Do you remember this? This was Dan Coats getting asked, Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, getting asked about whether or not he and the NSA director discussed among themselves -- amongst themselves these requests from the president. Watch, nine seconds. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Have you talked about this issue with Admiral Rogers?
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: That is -- that is something that I would like to withhold that question at this particular point in time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Not a term of art: I would like to withhold that question. That`s not a thing.
But Dan Coats said he would like to withhold on that pause.
We all got pregnant watching that post, it was so long. That happened back on May 23rd -- no answer, extremely long pregnant pause.
Did you guys discuss this matter together? Don`t want to talk about it.
But now, we are past that point in time and tonight, this late-breaking news from "The Washington Post" is that the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told his associates not only that the president asked he and Admiral Mike Rogers to pour public cold water on the investigation, not only that he asked them to put -- not only that he asked them to put public cold water on the investigation, but that he, quote, asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats if he personally -- if Coats would intervene with the FBI director to get the FBI to back off its focus on Michael Flynn in the Russia investigation.
So, citing officials, "The Post" says the request came on March 22nd. That was two days after Comey publicly confirmed the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump and Russia.
"Washington Post" says the request to Dan Coats that he intervened with the FBI director happened after a briefing in the White House. Quote: As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Dan Coats and the CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey`s handling of it. That`s according to officials familiar with the account that Coats gave to associates.
Quote: After the encounter, Coats discussed the conversation with other officials. That`s crucial, and then he decided that intervening with the FBI director as the president had suggested would be inappropriate. "The Post" tonight`s citing officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters.
The events involving Coats show the president went further than just asking intelligence officials to publicly deny the existence of any evidence showing collusion during the election, which is what "The Washington Post" reported in May. This interaction with Coats indicates that Trump aimed to enlist top officials to try to get the FBI to curtail their probe.
And because, of course, the Trump-Russia story allows for no rests, this story breaks tonight, the night before Dan Coats is scheduled to testify tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee in open session.
It`s good to be back. I was kind of expecting kind of a slower roll back into the news, but I can take it.
I should tell you also that moments ago, there is a -- there was a statement put out from the spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, pushing back on this story.
Actually have the -- do we have the written statement? We have the written -- oh, we have the written statement in my teleprompter. I do not have it written down.
This is the statement that we have just got from the Director of National Intelligence spokesperson. Quote: Director Coats does not discuss his private conversations with the president. However, he has never felt pressured by the president or anyone else in the administration to influence any intelligence matters or ongoing investigations. He has never felt pressure.
Again, that statement just coming out moments ago from the office of Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence.
Joining us now by phone is Adam Entous. He`s "The Washington Post` national security reporter who broke this story tonight.
Mr. Entous, thank you for joining us on short notice. I really appreciate it.
ADAM ENTOUS, WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER (via telephone): No problem. Glad to be here.
MADDOW: Let me ask if I summarized the sort of a state of the reporting on this point. As you -- as you might have heard and you might -- I`ve been out of it not only off the show, but I`ve been literally out a little while.
MADDOW: But as far as I understand it, you at "The Washington Post" had previously reported that the president had made requests to the Director of National Intelligence and the NSA director that they should make some sort of public pronouncement throwing cold water on the Trump-Russia investigation, saying there was no collusion. You`re advancing that tonight by saying that the director of national intelligence was also asked by the president to personally intervene with the FBI director to try to stop the probe? Is that correct?
ENTOUS: Yes. So, you know, the -- you know, basically one of the requests that we previously reported I think was much more direct. It was a phone call phone calls that were made to Mike Rogers and to Dan Coats in which basically, the president said he`d like them he`d like both of them to issue public statements. So, in other words attempt to address the narrative that was bothering the president about you know what Comey had said publicly when he testified on March 20th, that they were investigating coordination if you will between the Russians and members of the Trump campaign.
So, that was an effort to try to address a narrative issue but what happened on on the 22nd of March was basically, you know, the president -- I don`t think it`s as direct as you had as you had presented it in your -- in your intro, where is it -- I think that, you know, the president was basically frustrated with Comey who had, you know, refused the president`s request to drop the Flynn matter in a conversation that he had with them in February.
And now was basically it really sounding out Coats in the presence of Pompeo, you know, he`s frustrated what can be done? What could you do? Can you do something to help me in going and basically reaching out to Comey to get him to pull back?
And Coats emerges from that meeting, and according to the associates that he spoke to, he was angry, he was frustrated that the president had made this what he perceived as putting him in a difficult position because, you know, Coats wants to keep you know the intelligence agency separate from the politics. And for the president to seemingly appeal to him, to encourage him to reach out to Comey was something that Coats was not -- obviously had problems with and clearly did not feel comfortable doing.
And, Adam, to be to be clear, to be very precise on that point, what you`re able to report is that the president basically inquired with Dan Coats as to whether he could do this and Dan Coats --
ENTOUS: Yes. I think --
MADDOW: OK. Sorry. Is that fair?
ENTOUS: Yes, I think that is a -- that would be an accurate way of describing it. He asked him if he would be willing, if he -- if he could do this, and Coats felt like that was a -- he told his associates that he was uncomfortable with that, with that suggestion.
So, in your statement that you read from the spokesperson for the DNI where they explained that he did not -- he did not feel pressured. It`s -- that`s really not addressing the question. The question was, did the president ask? They`re answering by saying he didn`t feel pressure. So, they`re really not addressing the question of what actually was discussed in that meeting.
MADDOW: And, Adam, in terms of the other sort of -- the other person in that meeting, what you described is that there was a larger group that was meeting for briefing at the White House. Again, this was March 22nd -- according to your reporting. And the president asked as that briefing was breaking up, he asked not only for Dan Coats to stay in the room but for Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA, to stay in the -- to say -- to stay in the room as well.
Do you have any understanding as to whether or not similar requests like this or similar inquiries were made like this to Mike Pompeo or is he there essentially as an observer, as a bystander to what really was an interaction between the president and the DNI?
ENTOUS: Yes. I don`t -- I don`t have an answer to that. As far as I know, Pompeo when he -- when he leaves that room, he doesn`t go -- he doesn`t go and tell associates and other officials that he`s bothered by what just happened. The only reason we know why Coats -- you know, that Coats had expressed you know concern about what did what had transpired is because he goes and basically seeks advice and shares the experience with other officials.
And I have no information to suggest that Pompeo does the same. And so, you know, I think, you know, there are questions about whether or not the president -- you know, I think the takeaway here as what happened before in previous stories is this president does not have a lot of Washington experiences, as we all know, and you know he may be either doesn`t understand these dividing lines that are supposed to separate the intelligence agencies from the political leadership, either he did is unaware of that or he doesn`t really care about those dividing lines that are supposed to separate the investigators, the intelligence community from the politics.
And so, he`s frequently crossing that line in ways that make people feel uncomfortable and that`s I think what this is any potentially an example of and potentially something more if we -- if Coats were to offer a full, you know, recollection of the conversation that he had with the president.
MADDOW: Which he may be asked to do tomorrow -- as soon as tomorrow morning when he testifies in open session before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Adam Entous, "Washington Post" national security reporter, with tonight`s scoop at "The Washington Post" -- Adam, I appreciate you joining us on very short notice. Congratulations on this scoop. Thanks for joining us.
ENTOUS: Thank you.
MADDOW: Again, the headline is just broken tonight in "The Washington Post", top intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, told associates contemporaneously at the time in late March that the president asked him if he could please intervene with FBI Director James Comey to try to stop the FBI Russia investigation, particularly as it pertained to national security advisor Mike Flynn.
Again, there`s no allegation here in terms of "The Washington Post" reporting that Dan Coats committed his concerns about this to writing, as has been reported about similar concerns regarding James Comey himself and the NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers, but you can expect Dan Coats to be asked about this tomorrow and open session.
We`ve got more on that coming up. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In June last year, shortly after the Republican nomination for president was clinched, "USA Today" published this long sort of embarrassing report on the new Republican nominee. It was titled this: "USA Today" exclusive hundreds alleged Donald Trump doesn`t pay his bills, and then the subheading was, among those who say billionaire didn`t pay dishwashers painters, waiters.
"USA Today" reported in June that they basically had their reporters comb through legal documents and catalogue all the people who the Republican presidential nominee had been accused of not paying over the course of his business life, and it wasn`t just like other big-name real estate people. It was like contractors and subcontractors, plumbers, painters, dishwashers, waitresses, bartenders, employees at every level. Also, lawyers -- his own lawyers.
And that ends up being important. Over the course of his business career, according to what "USA Today" reporters were able to dig up through all these legal filings, in several instances, he retained law firms to represent him in these cases where he got sued because he`d allegedly stiffed his workers, right? So, his plumbers or his dishwashers or somebody suing because they say that Trump hasn`t paid them what they own.
In several instances, those same law firms ended up suing Donald Trump as well because he then didn`t pay his legal bills after they represented him in cases where other people said he didn`t pay them either. I can`t say they weren`t warned, right?
Well, in 2008, that was a New York law firm to Trump it hired to help fight contractors over alleged missed payments. So, Trump didn`t pay his contractors alleged she hired a law firm to represent him in that case. The law firm in that then in turn alleged that Trump didn`t pay them either. If that Trump didn`t pay them nearly a half million dollars in legal fees. Him in that New York law firm a ended up settling they later on.
Four years later, it was a Virginia law firm. They ended up suing the Trump organization for over $90,000 worth of allegedly unpaid legal fees that resulted in another settlement.
Then it was an Atlantic City law firm also accused Trump of skipping out on over a million dollars in legal fees that he owed to that law firm in Atlantic City, and they said they didn`t that he didn`t pay them.
That history of Donald Trump having to settle out of court or being sued by law firms, it says that Trump engaged them to represent him and then he didn`t pay them when the bills came due, that ends up being a really interesting relevant backstory to a fascinating new scoop from Yahoo`s Michael Isikoff.
Isikoff scoops that today that top lawyers at least four major private law firms have been contacted by the White House about potentially representing the president in his legal woes. At least four major law firms turned down the opportunity to represent the president in this Trump-Russia investigation.
We know, of course, that the president has selected a private attorney named Mark Kasowitz to represent him as his chief lawyer, but according to is Isikoff`s reporting today at "Yahoo News", there have been attempts in recent weeks to entice other kind of brand-name lawyers high-profile D.C. legal eagles trying to get people to come join the president`s legal team. Those efforts have proved fruitless.
Quoting from Isikoff`s report, the concerns were the guy won`t pay and he won`t listen. That`s one lawyer close to the White House. Quote: Other factors the lawyer said where that it would kill recruitment for the firm`s to be publicly associated with representing the polarizing president, and it would jeopardize the firm`s relationships with other clients.
You know, I think it`s important in this story and in every story related to this very strange presidency to separate out what is truly new and unprecedented, and what is actually sort of par for the course presidential behavior. And it`s unavoidable -- it`s definitely true that in modern times, almost every president has hired outside legal counsel, almost every modern president has relied on private lawyers to help him respond to whatever scandal that administration is facing.
President Obama I should mention is an exception to that. President Obama had a private lawyer but there was never a major scandal during his administration that required him to use that private counsel.
But for most other modern presidents, there is somebody. I mean, during the Watergate scandal, President Nixon went through not one but two outside private lawyers. His first with a man named Charles Allen Wright. He was the preeminent constitutional lawyer of his time. Wright, however, was unsuccessful in his efforts to prevent Nixon from having to hand over the White House tapes and so Nixon canned him, replaced them with another prominent lawyer named James St. Clair. St. Clair then defended the president`s decision to withhold the White House tapes, defended it all the way up to the Supreme Court before they lost that case.
During Iran-Contra, President Reagan. He retained Republican super lawyer Ted Olson as his private counsel.
Ronald Reagan`s successor, President George H.W. Bush, he actually hired Jimmy Carter`s attorney general, Griffin Bell, to be his private outside lawyer when the Iran-Contra issues followed him into his term as president.
President Bill Clinton, he retained big-name lawyers David Kendall, Bob Bennett to represent him during the Monica Lewinsky affair.
So, presidents hire outside counsel. Presidents use outside lawyers when they`ve got scandals to deal with. Usually, high-profile lawyers at high- profile law firms, and those kinds of lawyers those kinds of law firms usually line up to want to represent the president, no matter the scandal, it`s representing the president of the United States which is big prestigious deal, right? Except apparently when it comes to this president.
President Trump being rebuffed by big law firms is not only an anomaly when it comes to recent presidential history. It also raises this very practical immediate question of whether or not he`s going to have the best possible defense. I mean, following tonight`s reporting in front page of "The Washington Post" looks like you might need it more than ever. Is he going to get as good a defense as other presidents would get?
Hold that thought. There`s an answer.
MADDOW: One of the great investigative reporters of our time is a man named Michael Isikoff. He`s worked at "Newsweek" magazine. He`s worked at NBC News. He has worked frankly all over the news industry.
Wherever he has been though, he has always done groundbreaking, original, no fear, no favor, hard, hard-won shoe-leather reporting. He is an old- fashioned investigative reporter and it is worth following everything he publishes because he`s always on to something that nobody else is working on.
Right now, Michael Isikoff works at "Yahoo News". They are lucky to have him.
And his latest report today is that this president, this current president, has an unusual problem that other modern presidents have not had. Isikoff reports today that the top lawyers and the top law firms in Washington, D.C. are all turning the president down, as he seeks outside private counsel to represent him in his big scandal as the Russia investigation circles him and expands and gets more serious by the day.
Joining us now is Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for "Yahoo News".
Mike, it`s nice to see you tonight. Thanks for being here.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO NEWS CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Thanks for the kind words from one of the great cable hosts of our time.
MADDOW: That`s a much -- that`s a much smaller thing to win, but I just appreciate it.
Mike, let me ask you first of all about -- I think this was kind of the scope of the impact of what you`re reporting, when you look at this historically lots of presidents have had a need for outside counsel. For scandals large and small, presidents have engaged outside lawyers. It seems to me looking at this historically like whether the scandals are a big deal or not from administration to administration, law firms and big- name law lawyers usually see it as quite an honor, quite a prestige thing to represent a president regardless of what it is he`s asking about.
Isn`t that true?
ISIKOFF: It is, and I should point out that there were multiple reasons given to the White House for why these top lawyers at these top firms turn down the overtures they got. In some cases, they cited existing commitments, upcoming trials that would make it difficult for them to devote the necessary time and resources. In other cases, they cited the conflicts of interest that some of their clients had already gotten subpoenas as part of this investigation, the financial institutions that have been subpoenaed for records.
But the ones that really leap out are, number one, the concern that -- I mean, you cited before the president`s history and not paying his legal bills that was cited. But I think more important was the fact -- the question of, would he listen to their advice? Any of these top people, Brendan Sullivan, Ted Olson, you can go down the list -- if they`re going to take a case, they`re going to expect the client to listen to them, to take their advice, to do what they say to stay off Twitter. And I think they had real questions about whether this particular client would do that.
Beyond that, you know, it was extraordinary that there was concern about reputational risk to their firms. Would the -- would taking on the representation of Donald Trump such a polarizing figure kill recruitment of top-notch legal talent coming out of law firms, or how would it play with their existing clients? And that`s a really an extraordinary thing when you`re talking about representing the president of the United States.
MADDOW: And, Mike, he does have an outside lawyer. He`s brought on a lawyer who represented him, some of his Atlantic City casino business, the lawyer who I know I threatened "The New York Times" and they`ve reported things about President Trump that President Trump didn`t like. He represented him in part of the Trump University fraud case in which the president paid $25 million.
Attorney Marc Kasowitz is a New York lawyer. How does he fit into this in terms of this very basic practical question as to whether or not the president is going to have a top-notch defense here?
ISIKOFF: Well, look, I mean, he is a New York pit bull civil litigator. He`s got a long history of representing Donald Trump, making menacing public statements about his adversaries threatening countersuits like he did to some of the women who came forward after the "Access Hollywood" video came out. He threatened them with lawsuits if they continued to allege that Donald Trump had done something untoward with them.
And all that, you know, can work in certain arenas and it is worked for Marc Kasowitz. But what we`re talking about here in Washington with complex congressional Justice Department investigations that are heavily influenced by news media coverage, by politics, by public perceptions, it is a very different field. It calls for different skills, nuance. It calls for at times releasing information, making public disclosures, something this president and Marc Kasowitz is loathe to do.
So, there are real questions about whether he is the right guy for this particular job.
MADDOW: Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for "Yahoo News" -- Mike, congratulations on this scope. Thanks for being here.
ISIKOFF: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Yes, I will say that the -- this story that Isikoff published today, part of the reason I wanted to have him on talk about it tonight that this is not just like a Washington gossip story about who doesn`t want to be associated with Trump or like what big names have been approached and what they`ve said. If this presidency is going to be challenged by this investigation, if there`s an existential question as to whether or not Donald Trump stays president because of the seriousness of this investigation, one of the things we have to hope for as Americans whether you like Trump or you don`t, is that it is a very well-thought, hard-fought thing when it comes to both accusing him and defending him.
There -- if the stakes are as high as I believe they are in terms of this investigation, there can be no question as to whether or not he`s well- represented that he gets the best defense possible, and that all of the truth comes out. You have to have faith in the adversarial nature of our justice system in order to hope for an outcome that everybody can abide by and believe in. And so, you know, if you`re against this president don`t root for him to have a bad lawyer. Root for this process to be as rigorous as possible and for us all to be on the same page when it`s over, come hell or high water.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: In March 1992, over a period of nine days, what "The New York Times" called nine exhaustive days, a man named Sammy Gravano who everybody called Sammy the Bull testified in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. And he testified against the most famous and arguably the most powerful mafia crime boss in the entire country.
March 1992, Sammy the Bull, the underboss of the Gambino crime family, took the stand in Brooklyn and gave nine days of epic exhaustive, damning testimony against the head of the Gambino crime family, the guy he worked for, John Gotti.
Now, of course, they called John Gotti the Teflon Don, because he was slick in his personal appearance. He`s also great talker. He`s witty. He`s smooth. He had a real way with words.
They also called him the Teflon Don because charges never stuck to him. That was before Sammy the Bull though. When Sammy the Bull testified in March `92, he was one of the highest-ranking mafia figures to have ever turned state`s evidence to testify against the mob. He testified in March of that year, the following month, April of that year, John Gotti got convicted. Teflon Don Teflon no longer, right?
John Gotti got sentenced in April 1992 to life in prison. Ultimately, in 2002, a decade later, he died behind bars.
Meanwhile, though, Sammy the Bull went into witness protection, as you might imagine. In his case, that meant Arizona. Now at the time of John Gotti`s conviction, I said John Gotti was definitely the most famous and arguably the most powerful mob boss in the United States. I said he`s only arguably the most powerful at the time because of course if you`ve ever seen a mob movie, you know that there isn`t just one crime family, right? There are rival families in the Italian mafia in New York City.
And although John Gotti was the undisputed head of the Gambino crime family, at the time he was running that, he had a considerable rival who was the head of the Genovese crime family. While Gotti was running the Gambino side of things, the guy running the Genovese side of things was Vinny the Chin, Vincent Gigante.
Vinny the Chin Gigante was a good-looking guy in his youth. They didn`t call him the chin because he had some sort of outside, you know, deformed, weird-looking chin. It was from the Italian pronunciation of Vincent that he got the nickname, right?
But he was kind of a good-looking guy, big strong guy, and usually a guy`s looks or not all that important when you`re talking about his alleged criminal status. But in Vinny the Chin`s case, in his later years, the way he looked became very important to his efforts to stay out of prison.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: It is dusk in New York City and the man coming out of the shadows on the left is walking down the street in bedroom slippers, wearing his pajamas beneath a bathrobe. This man is Vincent Gigante and the FBI says he is the boss of the richest mafia family in the country. His brother.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don`t understand.
NARRATOR: His doctors say the man in pajamas is mentally ill, not a godfather but a man with the mind of a child, afraid of the dark.
JULES BONAVOLONTA, FBI: He`s crazy as a fox. He has played this game for many years.
NARRATOR: Gigante first came to police attention thirty years ago for taking a shot at a mob boss.
REPORTER: Hey, did you give yourself up because you were afraid?
VINCENT GIGANTE: No, you`re crazy.
NARRATOR: The last time Gigante was arrested in a bribery case in the early `70s, the charges were dropped when his lawyers produced letters from psychiatrists, calling him a schizophrenic with little chance of recovery.
Gigante has even been hospitalized here from time to time. Police insist Gigante is a mastermind.
BONAVOLONTA: A smart man would be smart enough to act a little crazy.
NARRATOR: Just before midnight most nights, Gigante`s bodyguards taking to this million-dollar townhouse he shares with his longtime girlfriend just off Park Avenue on the Upper East Side. Unaware that we`re watching with hidden cameras as he leaves, Gigante is no longer walking around in pajamas, but is dressed like a normal person at this time of night.
BONAVOLONTA: He`s been extremely, extremely smart. He`s outwitted us for a long period of time. But I can tell you right now that the commitment is going to be made where it`s going to become extremely difficult for him to outwit us, from here on out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I love that NBC reporting from 1988. They catch him outside his girlfriend`s house not wearing in a bathrobe now.
They`re reporting on the alleged head of a Genovese crime family, archrival of John Gotti, right? Vinny the Chin Gigante.
That report was 1988. The FBI saying it`s going to be difficult to outwit us from now on. It was not until almost a decade after that that they finally got the conviction against Vinny the Chin. And the way they got it is just incredible, right?
They tried everything under the sun. They doggedly pursued them year after year. FBI and, you know, the feds are making all these confident public pronouncements that they`re just about to get them for years and years. And years and years go by and they`re not able to get him.
But what happened in the end is this: eastern district of New York, federal prosecutor`s office in Brooklyn finally in 1997, so almost a decade after that NBC report, 1997, prosecutors in that Brooklyn office finally came up with this audacious gambit to try to get Vinny the Chin. And it took them out of Brooklyn, out of New York, off the East Coast altogether. They flew a prosecutor, a specific prosecutor. They flew him from New York to Ari- freaking-zona.
They flew him to Arizona and they got Sammy the Bull out of witness protection, right? He had testified against John Gotti. He was in the witness protection program. He`s been living supposedly in obscurity in Arizona for years after his blockbuster testimony put John Gotti away, one of the highest-ranking mob guys ever flip on the stand, right?
But the prosecutor who had overseen Sammy the Bull`s case, who`d prosecuted him, who had overseen him slipping to testify against John Gotti who helped do the deal to send them off to go live this new anonymous life for the rest of his days in Arizona, that individual prosecutor personally flew out to Arizona to do the impossible, to persuade Sammy the Bull to do it again, to come back out of hiding, come out of the witness protection program and testify once again against another crime boss, this time against Vinny the Chin, the head of yet another New York crime family.
Fly out of Arizona, persuaded him, the guy did it, and that is part of how they finally put Vinny the Chin away despite the whole bathrobe and slippers act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In New York City, they call him the odd father and now, Vincent Gigante has been convicted of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder. Gigante`s lawyers have said he`s mentally ill. He`s a familiar figure on the streets of his neighborhood where he shuffles along, wearing a bathrobe. Prosecutors said it was an act and the jury agreed, convicting Gigante in effect of running a mob crime family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It was "Today" show footage from 1997.
And the way those prosecutors built those cases, right, the way they flip these top guys in the mob, you know, including in the case of Vinny the Chin, they flipped a guy who already in witness protection who had testified against John Gotti to come out again and testify against the head of another crime family, right? There is always been an almost unbelievably dramatic story of the way the feds dismantled the Italian mafia in New York.
And that feels like a story from another age, right, from another era. But these things really don`t ever end. And now, we know that that intrepid prosecutor, the guy on the plane, the guy who prosecuted Sammy the Bull and slipped through against John Gotti and then put him a witness protection and then went to Arizona and got him out of witness protection and flipped him against another mob boss, that prosecutor, he now works for Robert Mueller and the special counsel investigation into the Trump-Russia affair. His name is Andrew Weissmann. Two S`s, two N`s.
His last gig was running the fraud section and the criminal division of the Justice Department. That`s after a long career that involves a long stint in Brooklyn at the eastern district of New York U.S. attorney`s office. Interestingly, though, in his role at the fraud division, in the Justice Department, he did a ton of work specifically on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Hmm, that might come in handy, stick a pin in that.
Now, though, Andrew Weissmann has taken leave to join the special counsel investigation into the Trump Russia matter.
Now, we do not know the full extent of exactly who Robert Mueller has working with him in the investigation, but Andrew Weissmann, veteran of more than 25 mob prosecutions, including the highest profile mob prosecutions we have ever had in this country, veteran of multiple high- profile complicated stock fraud cases. Actually, he`s also the guy who led the Enron task force at the beginning of the 2000s, which everybody thought was going to be the biggest scandal of the George W. Bush administration until 9/11 happened. Andrew Weissmann, the man who basically overhauled the treatment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act at the Justice Department, we now know that he is the highest ranking government lawyer to leave his post in government to go join Robert Mueller`s investigation instead.
Andrew Weissmann`s employment was first reported by "Bloomberg News". I expect we may learn more about the significance of that appointment over, what it tells us about the investigation, we may learn more about that in the days ahead.
We can report tonight though that although Robert Mueller and his spokesman are not confirming or denying anything about the exact scope and focus of their investigation, if recent reports were true that Mueller`s investigation has spread out to encompass prior existing investigations into the Trump campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and into that Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn, we can report tonight that if those reports are true about the scope of Mueller`s investigation, that would mean that the resources afforded to those prior existing investigations will now be brought under Robert Mueller`s control.
What I mean by that specifically is in the case of Paul Manafort, what`s been reported about that investigation is that Manafort is part of a long- standing years-long FBI investigation into the kleptocracy in Ukraine, the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars that were stolen, looted out of that country`s government by the pro-Putin dictator who Manafort worked for four years. That investigation is years long already. It involved FBI investigation -- excuse me -- FBI agents working including on-site in Kiev in Ukraine. That investigation ongoing for years.
In the case of Mike Flynn, the ongoing federal investigation that involved him reportedly relates to his foreign contacts, including his foreign business ties. That is a grand jury investigation that`s produced multiple subpoenas through the U.S. attorney`s office in the eastern district of Virginia. The prosecutor overseeing that Flynn investigation is reportedly a veteran espionage prosecutor.
If these recent news reports are true that both the Flynn investigation and that Manafort investigation are now part of Mueller`s special counsel investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, we have confirmed tonight that that means that Mueller would now have management control of all of the DOJ and FBI resources that were previously devoted to those other inquiries. That`s new information that was previously unreported but we can confirm that tonight in terms of the resources under Mueller`s control.
Now, I know everybody`s been talking about the Comey testimony that`s going to happen on Thursday and that`s going to be a big deal. But tomorrow, the Senate Intelligence Committee is due to hear testimony in open session from for people who are likely to get a bunch of questions about this ongoing investigation. One of them, Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, the subject of tonight`s front page "Washington Post" scoop which says that the president asked Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, if he could intervene with the FBI director to try to stop the Trump Russia investigation at least the part of it that related to Mike Flynn. That`s on the front page of "The Washington Post" as of tonight. Expect questions to Dan Coats about that tomorrow.
It has been previously reported that the National Security Agency director, Admiral Mike Rogers, was also approached by Donald Trump, also approached by the president about the Trump-Russia investigation. The president reportedly asking Mike Rogers to make public statements pouring cold water on the investigation. Expect Mike Rogers, head of the NSA, to get questions about that tomorrow, too.
In terms of the other people giving testimony tomorrow, there`s no new director of the FBI since the president fired James Comey a month ago. Although it has been weeks since the president said he`s named somebody new for the job. Apparently, the process of picking somebody for that job is not going very well. We still have just an acting director of the FBI. His name is Andrew McCabe. Andrew McCabe will testify tomorrow.
The other person who will testify tomorrow is Rod Rosenstein. He`s the number two official at the Justice Department under Jeff Sessions.
Now, here`s a couple of things to be ready for tomorrow in terms of Rod Rosenstein`s testimony first of all, as you know, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he himself is reportedly or purportedly recused from matters relating to the Trump campaign, including the Trump-Russia investigation. That recusal is a matter of some controversy. But if you set that aside for now, Rod Rosenstein is nominally overseeing the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation, because Jeff sessions recused himself.
Now, it has also been reported that Bob Mueller`s investigation extends not just to the Russian attack on our election and Paul Manafort`s dealings in Ukraine and Mike Flynn`s business dealings around the world. It`s been reported but never confirmed by Mueller himself that his investigation also includes the matter of Jim Comey`s firing. And the question of whether or not the FBI Director James Comey was fired in an effort to obstruct justice, to obstruct the Russia investigation.
Because both Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein were involved and what the White House says was the decision-making process to fire James Comey, it`s possible that Rosenstein himself may end up being a subject that Robert Mueller is looking into in terms of obstruction of justice. Well, Rosenstein can`t oversee an investigation into himself, he cannot oversee that part of the investigation. Tomorrow in this testimony, we expect that will mean that Rod Rosenstein will try to avoid answering questions from the Senate, about the firing of Jim Comey or these broader questions about whether Comey was fired to obstruct justice.
But we also expect that we`re also going to get a new name that will be famous as of tomorrow. If Rod Rosenstein makes clear tomorrow that he is recusing himself from all of or part of the investigation of the Mueller investigation, that will mean that another person is about to get famous and that person is Rachel Brand. Have you ever seen her on television before? Probably not.
She -- her confirmation hearings were not widely telecast and to the extent that anybody was paying attention to them, you might not have noticed her because her confirmation hearing was held alongside the confirmation hearing for Rod Rosenstein. She got very few questions from senators of either party during the whole confirmation process.
She is a relatively well-known, relatively non-controversial Justice Department figure. She is about to become very well-known as of tomorrow because she is the third in line at the Justice Department.
Jeff Sessions is obviously first. He at least reportedly is recused from Trump-Russia investigation matters and anything else related to the Trump campaign. So, that would put Rod Rosenstein in charge of those matters. To the extent that the obstruction of justice part of this investigation also touches on Rosenstein`s behavior, too, that would mean that Rosenstein will recuse himself either from that part of the investigation or conceivably from the entire investigation.
Once you take out the number one person in the Justice Department, Sessions, and the number two part person in the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein, that would throw this matter to the number three person in the Justice Department, the heretofore, unsung, unknown personage of Rachel Brand. Rachel Brand would be in charge ultimately of potentially overseeing this whole investigation, including its budget and a report to Congress at the end and everything. So, Rachel Brand is going to get famous as of tomorrow.
The whole country is sort of on tenterhooks waiting for that James Comey testimony on Thursday. Tomorrow`s testimony is going to be a very big deal as well.
That does it for us tonight. Thank you again for your forbearance while I was out this last week and a half. I am delighted to be back.
Now I`m going to go sleep for 16 hours. I`ll see you again tomorrow.
It`s now time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END