The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 6/13/17 Sen. Schumer on Sessions Testimony

Guests: Chuck Schumer

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: June 13, 2017 Guest: Chuck Schumer

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel, on the not -- on the dot.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That was 9:00:00:00.

HAYES: Nailed it.

MADDOW: Boom!

Thank you, my friend. Putting me to shame because I always run into 40 seconds, a minute and a half into Lawrence. My debt.

All right. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here this fine Tuesday night.

Chuck Schumer is going to be joining us this hour. He`s the -- arguably the top Democrat in Washington. He is the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate. He`s going to be here with us live tonight to give us basically the Democrats` response to this blockbuster pounding the table testimony today that we got under oath from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That`s ahead.

Chuck Schumer is going to be here live for the interview tonight. We`ve got a big show tonight.

When Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, his campaign manager for that presidential campaign was a man named Bill Casey. William Casey. And after they won that election and Reagan became president of the United States, he appointed his campaign manager, Bill Casey, to be director of the CIA.

So, the big jump, right? Campaign manager to CIA director? But that`s what Reagan did, and Bill Casey served as CIA director until 1987 when he died of complications from a brain tumor.

And when Bill Casey died, leaving that opening at the head of the CIA, Reagan made an interesting decision. He didn`t bring in from the outside a new head of the CIA. He decided instead to make an internal shift within his administration to fill that crucial job at the CIA.

He decided he wouldn`t bring up somebody from inside the CIA. He wouldn`t bring in somebody totally new. Instead, he moved over from the FBI the director of the FBI to start being the head of the CIA to replace William Casey after Casey died in 1987. That was an interesting decision that Reagan made right at the end of his term in office in 1987.

That, of course, even though it filled the job at the CIA, it left an opening at the top of the FBI, right? Move the FBI director over to the CIA. Interesting for the CIA. But now a big hole to fill at the FBI.

And they are being an opening at the top of the FBI, that was a very, very rare thing at the time. I mean, there haven`t been that many people who have run the FBI. For almost the first half century of its existence, the FBI had exactly one director, its founding director, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover died in office in 1972 after being FBI director for more than 40 years.

So, when Hoover died, Nixon got to appoint his replacement who was then the only -- only the second person to ever hold the job. His name was Clarence Kelley. He was the second director of the FBI. He served in that job for about five years.

Then the third director was William Webster. He was appointed by President Carter in 1978. That, William Webster, that`s the guy who Reagan moved over from the FBI to run the CIA after his campaign manager there got a brain tumor and died.

And that meant in 1987, at the end of Ronald Reagan`s time in office, the FBI needed a new director for only the fourth time in its entire existence. It`s fascinating, right? This really late in our history for this to be such a rare job opening. I mean, this is incredibly prestigious, incredibly powerful and incredibly important job. And, by the end of the `80s, only three people had ever held it in the history of our country.

So, he`s looking for the fourth FBI director ever. And for whatever reason, Ronald Reagan had a heck of a time finding somebody to take that job.

He asked a federal judge in Oklahoma to become FBI director. That judge said, no, I don`t want it. He asked a federal judge in San Francisco to be FBI director. That judge said, no, I don`t want it. He asked a federal appeals court judge to be FBI director. That judge said, no, I don`t want it.

He asked the former governor of Pennsylvania, would you like to be FBI director? The former governor of Pennsylvania said, no, I don`t want it.

He then asked the freaking commandant of the Marine Corps, would you like to be FBI director? He also said no, I don`t want it. Nobody wanted the job.

And so, finally, after months of looking and it becoming kind of an embarrassing thing for the Reagan administration, all these different increasingly high-profile people saying, no, no, no, they didn`t want the job, finally, they found somebody, I think four or five months into the process. Finally, they found somebody who told them yes.

It was a Texas lawyer. A Texas judge, actually, sort of a genteel country club Republican type. He famously said even though he was from Texas, he did not even own a pair of cowboy boots. But it`s -- he did have a tough reputation. He was famous in Texas for having handed down life sentences to the two men who had murdered his own predecessor in the judge seat he held in West Texas. That judge had been murdered in office.

William Sessions then took that judgeship following the murdered judge. He oversaw the trial for the murder of his predecessor, and he saw both of the perpetrators put away for life.

So, they have this interesting, sort of a tough guy reputation. And there are a lot of interesting and dramatic, laudable things about William Sessions and his career over the course of his life, up to and including him becoming the fourth ever director of the FBI. Incidentally, he`s the father of Texas Congressman Pete Sessions.

But despite everything else there is to know about William Sessions and his career, culminating with him being appointed to run the FBI for Ronald Reagan in 1987. Despite everything else you might know about his career, one thing he will always be known for is that he was the first person in U.S. history to ever be fired as FBI director. Before this year, he was the only person in American history to have ever been fired as FBI director.

And whether, you know, you were a fan of William Sessions over the course of his career or not, and he certainly had more friends than he had enemies, you know, his firing as FBI director, it did cause a little bit of a stir at the time. But it hasn`t gone down in history as a great controversy.

Reagan had appointed him in the first place, again, under those difficult circumstances at the end of his presidency. And there were lots of other people not wanting the job. William Sessions served as FBI director through the very end of Reagan`s term. He served through the whole term of George H.W. Bush`s time in office. By the time the 1992 election came around, though, and George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in that election, the justice department had started, by then, a big and ultimately sort of embarrassing ethics investigation into William Sessions as FBI director.

And you know, I think it is fair to say that what ultimately brought him down, this report that the Justice Department did into him, it was not the world`s biggest scandal. It was not a hugely scandalous corruption probe or something. It wasn`t like an espionage probe or something dramatic like that. It wasn`t even a particularly big political fight over him. What brought him down was a parade of little embarrassing stuff.

They accused him of using taxpayer funds to build a $10,000 fence at his home in Washington, D.C. They accused him and his wife of manipulating taxpayer-funded travel arrangements to go visit their friends and family. They accused him of using a taxpayer funded car and driver for his own personal use and not for FBI business. It was that kind of little stuff, a whole list of that kind of stuff.

And William Sessions, you know, he contested the charges. He vehemently denied any wrongdoing. But the Justice Department, in fact, did this exhaustive ethics investigation of his tenure at the FBI. They produced this report about what they concluded was him misusing powers and misusing taxpayer funds on a relatively small scale.

And that report was sitting on Bill Clinton`s desk when he got sworn in as president in January 1993. And indeed, within the first few months of his presidency, Bill Clinton decided to fire him. And that`s how William Sessions became the first, and until this year, the only person to ever be fired as FBI director.

And again, it was not the biggest scandal in the world, and it was not particularly political. At least it wasn`t partisan. William Sessions was a Republican. He`d been appointed by a Republican president. He had served under two Republican presidents.

Despite that, he was actually much more popular with Democrats on Capitol Hill than he was with Republicans on Capitol Hill. So there was this real mixed picture in terms of partisanship and partisan interests surrounding him.

There was also never any question about whether Bill Clinton might be firing the FBI director to stop some FBI investigation or to twist the FBI around into taking a more favorable view of his administration. It was this small stuff. It was this picayune, petty, corruption and ethics stuff. And before this year, that was the entire American history of presidents firing FBI directors.

That`s why this president firing James Comey as FBI director was such a big, freaking deal. I mean, before now, the only other time this happened was the guy who helped himself to a fence that he should have paid for himself. I mean, what happened this year, happened with James Comey is nothing like that. And today, that became more clear than ever.

So far over this past month since they fired James Comey, this White House has rolled out one, two, three different stories to explain why they fired him. And today, with the attorney general under oath, that whole confused, can`t get their stories straight strategy just absolutely fell apart.

I mean, if you`re going to fire the FBI director, especially right after that FBI director confirms in public that the president`s campaign is the subject of an ongoing and -- open, ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation, when we now know that the FBI has an open criminal investigation into one of the president`s top advisers, his former national security adviser, if you`re going to fire the FBI director under those circumstances, you really need to have your story straight about why you did that because that is not normal American behavior. That does not comport with U.S. history. That is not the way we do things. You better have a good reason to explain why you`re doing that.

The White House instead has tried a few different reasons for why they did that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In regard to the termination of the former FBI Director Comey, the president over the last several months lost confidence in Director Comey. The DOJ lost confidence in Director Comey. Bipartisan members of Congress made it clear that they had lost confidence in Director Comey. And most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.

REPORTER: What give you such confidence that rank and file within the bureau lost faith in the FBI director?

There`s a special agent inside who wrote us who said the vast majority of the bureau is in favor of Director Comey. This is a total shock. This is not supposed to happen. The real losers here are 20,000 front line people in the organization because they lost the only guy working here in the past 15 years who actually cared about them.

So, what is your response to these rank and file FBI agents who disagree with your contention that they lost faith in Director Comey?

SANDERS: Look, we`ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So, the White House tried that one on for a while. The FBI, rank and file, the FBI had turned against Director Comey. The FBI agents hated him. The president himself tried that one on in an interview with Lester Holt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, he`s a showboat. He`s a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Everybody knows that. That was one of the explanations they have tried for this incredibly ahistorical thing they have done. One of their explanations they tried, one of their explanations for why Comey had to be fired is the FBI -- everybody knows the FBI is in turmoil. FBI agents, the rank and file hated him. He had to go.

You know, that is an empirical claim. That`s a claim that can be checked. When checked with the current head of the FBI, it turns out that claim is not true.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D-NM), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We`ve heard in the news that claims that Director Comey had lost the confidence of rank and file FBI employees. You`ve been there for 21 years. In your opinion, is it accurate that the rank and file no longer supported director Comey?

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: No, sir. That is not accurate. I can tell you, sir, that I worked very, very closely with Director Comey from the moment he started at the FBI. I was his executive assistant director of national security at that time, and worked for him running the Washington field office. Of course, I`ve served as deputy for the last year.

I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity and it has been the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life to work with him. I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.

We are a large organization. We are 36,500 people across this country, across this globe. We have a diversity of opinions about many things. But I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So that was the word from the FBI after James Comey was fired by the president and the president and the White House tried to say the reason they had to fire him was because the FBI hated him so much, because the FBI was in turmoil under his leadership. The FBI itself has spoken by its acting director, Andrew McCabe, under oath and says that was absolutely not true.

That was their first cover story. FBI hated James Comey. It was in turmoil. That`s why he had to go. That explanation was basically blown out of the water as soon as they tried it.

But they resuscitated it today. The attorney general today under oath briefly tried to bring it back to life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I presented to the president my concerns and those of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about the ongoing leadership issues at the FBI as stated in my letter recommending the removal of Mr. Comey.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Attorney General Jeff Sessions today claiming once, this was one of his attempts at explaining it, claiming initially today that the FBI Director James Comey had to be fired. You know, this remarkable, unprecedented thing in American history. It had to happen because of what he called leadership issues at the FBI.

Now, as we`ve just shown, that really did not fly when the Trump administration tried it before. Today, it was also quickly blown out of the sky.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: One of the comments you made in your testimony was that you`d reached this conclusion about the performance of then Director Comey`s ability to lead the FBI. That you agreed with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein`s memo. The fact that you`d worked with Director Comey for some time, did you ever have a conversation as a superior to Director Comey, with his failure to perform or some of these accusations that he wasn`t running the FBI in a good way or that somehow the FBI was -- is in turmoil?

Did you have any conversations with director Comey about this subject?

SESSIONS: I did not.

WARNER: So, you were his superior, and there were some fairly harsh things said about Director Comey. You never thought it was appropriate to raise those concerns before he was actually terminated by the president?

SESSIONS: I did not do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So only once before in the history of this country have we ever fired an FBI director. He was fired because of improperly accepting a fence. This one, you say, we had to fire him because he was so terrible at running the FBI.

OK. You`re his boss. Did you ever speak to him about that? About him being terrible at running the FBI and the FBI being in turmoil? The FBI agents, the rank-and-file being against him? You were his boss. Did you ever raise it with him?

No. Never. Not once. No, we never spoke of it. I never brought it up.

So, that is one of their attempted explanations for this remarkable thing they did. One of their attempted explanations for why the president fired the FBI director is that he was bad at running the FBI. They tried that and abandoned it really early on after they fired him. The attorney general under oath tried to bring it back today but he had no explanation why his own behavior didn`t comport with that version of events.

One might reasonably surmise that that purported explanation for Comey being fired has now been exhausted. But don`t worry. They have a couple others.

They have also tried another story to purportedly explain why the president had to do this remarkable thing. Why he had to fire the FBI director. One of the other explanations they`ve tried on was that James Comey had to be fired because he mishandled the resolution of the whole Clinton e-mails thing during last year`s campaign.

Since the firing of James Comey, the White House and Attorney General Jeff Sessions today have tried to claim that they found James Comey`s statements about the Clinton e-mail investigation to be so super egregiously inappropriate, so shockingly bad that that`s why they had to fire him. That purported explanation also does not make sense. It does not make sense in part given how people like the attorney general talked about that behavior by James Comey when it happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: You know, the FBI Director Comey did the right thing when he found new evidence. He had no choice but to report to the American Congress where he had under oath testified the investigation was over. He had to correct that and say this investigation is ongoing now. And I`m sure it`s significant or he wouldn`t have announced that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: He did the right thing. He had no choice. He did the right thing. That was right before the election. Today, that same person, Jeff Sessions, tried to claim that he feels exactly the opposite about the way James Comey handled that matter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This was based on Mr. Comey`s handling of the investigation involving Hillary Clinton in which you said that he usurped the authority of prosecutors at the Department of Justice?

SESSIONS: Yes, that was part of it. And the commenting on the investigation in ways that go beyond the proper policies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Yes, his comments on the investigation.

You know, it was either absolutely necessary and the right thing that James Comey say the things he said about the Clinton investigation or it was absolutely inappropriate and the wrong thing and a cause for him to be fired. It can either be absolutely the right thing or cause for firing. It can be one or the other depending on your take but you can`t have both takes.

You can`t pick both of those answers. You can`t pick it was the right thing and it was a firing offense. It was an appropriate thing and it was a totally inappropriate thing. You can`t hold both of those views if you are the same Jeff Sessions as you were in November.

It is a huge and remarkable thing in American history that the president of the United States fired the director of the premier law enforcement agency in the federal government. That the president fired the director of the FBI after the FBI had opened up what we now know is an ongoing criminal investigation into one of the president`s top advisers, his national security adviser. After the FBI director confirmed publicly that the FBI`s conducting an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into the president`s campaign and the Russian attack on our country last year.

It is absolutely unprecedented in American history that the president would fire the FBI director full stop, let alone that the president would fire the FBI director in those fraught circumstances. There really has only been one other FBI director fired ever before, and it was for nothing like this.

They struck out in saying that James Comey was fired for the turmoil at the FBI. There does not appear to be turmoil at the FBI.

They struck out saying James Comey was fired for talking about the Clinton e-mails investigation last year. The people who supposedly fired James Comey for that, including the president, including the attorney general, they are on record as expressing their delight with James Comey for him talking about the Clinton e-mails investigation last year. So, it`s neither of those things.

The only other explanation they`ve put forward for this remarkable decision for the president to fire the FBI director is the one the president himself gave on camera after those other explanations had already been put forward and tried and immediately fell apart.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. Knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: This is the third explanation that the White House, the president have given as to why the FBI director was fired. The other explanations were trotted out again today by the attorney general, but they remain implausible and disproven. They continue to not stand up under scrutiny.

If this third one is -- if the president did fire the FBI director because of the Russia investigation that he was overseeing, honestly, I think most rational observers would believe there`s likely no legal exit ramp for the president. Or for anybody who abetted him in doing that.

And the attorney general, under oath, confronted with that possibility just decided to start digging.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Do you concur with the president that he was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation because the problem was the Russian investigation?

SESSIONS: Senator Feinstein, I guess I`ll just have to let his words speak for himself. I`m not sure what was in his mind explicitly when we talked with him.

FEINSTEIN: Did you ever discuss Director Comey`s FBI handling of the Russia investigations with the president or anyone else?

SESSIONS: Senator Feinstein, that would call for a communication between the attorney general and the president. I`m not able to comment on that.

FEINSTEIN: You are not able to answer the question here, whether you ever discussed that with him?

SESSIONS: That`s correct.

FEINSTEIN: And how do you view that since you discussed his termination. Why wouldn`t you discuss the reasons?

SESSIONS: Well, I -- those were put in writing and sent to the president. And he made those public. So he made that public, not --

FEINSTEIN: So, you`ve had no verbal conversation with him about the firing of Mr. Comey?

SESSIONS: Well, I`m not able to discuss with you or confirm or deny the nature of private conversations that I may have had with the president on this subject or others.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Did the question of the Russian investigation ever come up?

SESSIONS: I cannot answer that because it was a communication by the president, or if any such occurred it would be a communication that he has not waived.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It is a remarkable thing that the president fired the FBI director. Was he fired because of turmoil at the FBI? No.

Was he fired because of statements he made about the conclusion of the Clinton e-mail investigation? Plainly, no.

Was he fired because of the Russia investigation? I`d prefer not to answer that, Senators.

That`s apparently the strategy now. Legally, it would appear that that cannot stand. But that can be figured out, actually, and that`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEINRICH: My understanding is that you took an oath. You raised your right hand here today and you said that you would solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And now, you`re not answering questions. You`re impeding this investigation.

So, my understanding of the legal standard is that you either answer the question. That`s the best outcome.

You say this is classified. Can`t answer it here. I`ll answer it in closed session. That`s bucket number two.

Bucket number three is to say I`m invoking executive privilege.

There is no appropriateness bucket. It is not a legal standard. You are obstructing that congressional investigation by not answering these questions. And I think your silence, like the silence of Director Coats, like the silence of Admiral Rogers, speaks volumes.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR: Before I recognize Senator Blunt, I would like the record to show that last night, Admiral Rogers spent almost two hours in closed session with the -- almost the full committee, fulfilling his commitment to us in the hearing that in closed session he would answer the question. And I think it was thoroughly answered. And all members were given an opportunity to ask questions.

I just want the record to show that with what Senator Heinrich stated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was a very interesting moment in the middle of this big hearing today. It`s like a news break in the middle of the hearing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Last week, the same committee had testimony from the head of the NSA, Admiral Mike Rogers, and from the director of national intelligence. And at that hearing last week, Admiral Rogers told the senators repeatedly that he wouldn`t answer their questions about whether or not President Trump asked him to intervene in the FBI`s Russia investigation. He said he wouldn`t talk to them about it in open session because he considered those sessions classified but he said he would tell them about it in a classified setting.

So, we got this little news break in today`s hearing where Chairman Burr announced that, in fact, last night, Admiral Rogers came back and briefed them in a classified setting. He briefed members of the Senate Intelligence Committee at a secure SCIF on Capitol Hill for almost two hours and presumably told them what he wouldn`t tell them last week in open session.

Here`s the interesting part, though. At that same hearing last week, where senators heard from the NSA Director Mike Rogers and he said, I won`t talk to you, all that stuff is classified, they also heard from the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats. At that hearing, Dan Coats also wouldn`t answer any of their questions about whether the president had talked to him and asked him to intervene in the FBI Russia investigation.

But he didn`t give the same justification why. He didn`t say, no, my answers are classified. I`ll only tell you in a classified session. He just said he didn`t want to answer their questions on that subject because he didn`t feel right about it. He didn`t feel it was appropriate for him to do so.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What`s the basis for your refusal to answer these questions today?

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The basis is that what I`ve previously explained. I do not believe it is appropriate for me to --

KING: What`s the basis -- I`m not satisfied with, I don`t feel it`s appropriate or I do not feel I should answer. I want to understand a legal basis. You swore that oath to tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and today, you`re refusing to do so. What is the legal basis for your refusal to testify to this committee?

COATS: I`m not sure I have a legal basis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: I`m not sure I have a legal basis was his explanation.

Now, I`m not a lawyer and statistically speaking, neither are you, but I don`t believe it`s appropriate is not a thing on the list of legal defenses that you can properly offer when you`re under oath testifying before an Oversight Committee in the United States Congress about a thing you`re suppose to answer to them about. I don`t have a basis doesn`t last as a reason not to hand over information. So, that`s been interesting.

One of the things that we`ve been watching for this week is whether or not Dan Coats is going to have to come back to brief the senators behind closed doors or whether they`re going to do something else to try to get this information out of him. They`re asking him, did the president ask you to intervene in the FBI`s Russia investigation? He`s like, I don`t want to answer.

So, Admiral Rogers said I don`t want to answer. It`s classified. He went back and testified in classified session.

Dan Coats, we don`t know what`s going to happen. And the Dan Coats we don`t know what`s going to happen route, that`s the route that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, took today. He said repeatedly today at every opportunity, that he would not answer senators` questions about his conversations with the president.

And he said it was based on longstanding practice. A practice that he thinks is in effect but he`s not sure. Maybe it`s written down somewhere. Maybe?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEINRICH: Can you share those policies with us? Are they written down at the Department of Justice?

SESSIONS: I believe they are because that`s a longstanding --

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Sir, I`m just asking you about the policy you refer to.

SESSIONS: -- a policy that goes beyond just the attorney general.

HARRIS: Is that policy in writing somewhere?

SESSIONS: I think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: I think so. Maybe it`s a policy? This is the new thing that Trump administration folks are doing now when they get really pushed. Especially on the question of whether there was obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation. Dan Coats was an appointee of President Trump. He refused to answer questions without offering any legal justification.

Jeff Sessions also an appointee of President Trump refused to answer questions without offering any legal justification other than DOJ rules that he could not cite but he thought might exist.

If Trump appointees at high levels are just going to refuse to answer questions without legal justifications for those refusals, how is Congress going to deal with that?

Top Democrat in the Senate joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Joining us now for "The Interview" is Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. He is the top Democrat in the United States Senate.

Senator Schumer, thanks very much for being with us tonight. It`s nice to have you here.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Good evening. Good evening, Ms. Maddow.

MADDOW: Thank you.

Let me ask you, top line for your reaction tonight to the sworn testimony today from the attorney general. Did he set anything to rest in terms of the Russia collusion question or the prospect that the investigation into that has been obstructed?

SCHUMER: No. I think he raised more questions than he settled. When you compare his testimony to Director Comey, Director Comey was forthright, even on occasion when some people thought it might have hurt him, but he told the whole truth and nothing but. He didn`t hold anything back.

Jeff Sessions seemed to be avoiding almost every question, few exceptions. And when the president, when the people around him, like Jeff, say (ph), why do people suspect us? Well, if you had done nothing wrong, the obvious conclusion is you`d be happy to talk about things. But if you`re worried you might have done something wrong, then the conclusion is you better avoid it.

And this idea when these -- the information is not classified and when the president hasn`t previously called for executive privilege, that a cabinet official should not answer questions is bunk. Cabinet officials have been talking for months about their conversations with President Trump on a whole variety of issues. It seems the only time that they don`t want to discuss their discussion -- their conversations with President Trump is when it`s about Russia. And that has no factual basis, no legal basis, and Sessions is in dereliction of his duty.

I`d say one more thing about this, Rachel. He now has refused to appear before the committee that has oversight into Justice Department spending. He seems unwilling to appear before the Judiciary Committee, although we don`t have a direct answer yet. They are the committee with direct oversight over the Justice Department.

If he`s unwilling to appear there and only willing to appear before the Intelligence Committee, which is about Russia but about nothing else, then it seems he can`t do his job and he ought to step down.

MADDOW: Senator, is there anything that can happen in terms of next steps in the United States Senate for cabinet officials, including the attorney general, refusing to answer these questions? Obviously, you think that it`s a major problem. Can you do anything to compel them to testify?

SCHUMER: Well, you know, there is the issue of contempt of Congress. It is legally complicated. It takes a very long time. It`s fought out in the courts for a very long period of time.

So, in terms of getting answers in the near future, it is not an answer. And it is the legal ramifications, the legal justifications are complicated. There`s no clear-cut answer on that. But that is something that I`m sure the intelligence committee and the other committees might look at.

MADDOW: Senator Schumer, we`ve just in the last couple of minutes received the transcript of a gaggle, an off-camera gaggle that a White House spokeswoman did with reporters. We don`t have footage of this, but we do have the transcript.

This was Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she asked if the president is considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, Robert Mueller. She replied, while the president has the right to, he has no intention to do so. She then followed up after another question from a reporter and said that Robert Mueller was, in fact, interviewed by this White House for the possibility of coming back to be FBI director again, and that interview with the White House happened the day before he was appointed special counsel in this case.

Some of the president`s allies have raised that as possibly a conflict or a reason that the White House might have -- the president might have a reason to fire him as special counsel. Do you have any response to that?

SCHUMER: Yes, it`s convoluted reasoning. First of all, when Mr. Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller, he explicitly said he had not informed the White House. He just went ahead and did it, to his credit.

But second, the fact that Mueller is considered for these positions speaks to his integrity, and many people, including Jeff Sessions himself said that Mueller is of the highest integrity. And this is just shooting the messenger. Anytime, we`ve had two people now who have devoted themselves to law enforcement, to the country for most their lives, most of their professional lives. First Comey, now Mueller.

When they -- when Comey does things the president doesn`t like, when Mueller, who seems that he will pursue this investigation no matter where it leads gets under the skin of some people, they say, maybe they`ll fire him. That is just such, such a dereliction of the separation of powers. So against what the Constitution is like.

If he were to fire Mueller, first, it would cause a constitutional crisis. Rosenstein said today he would not fire Mueller. So, we`re getting echoes of Richard Nixon in the Saturday Night Massacre that will have to go deep into the Justice Department to find someone who would do such a pernicious and despicable act of failing Mueller.

And second, it will backfire, because I believe in that case, there would be such a reaction not only of Democrats but of Republicans in Congress that what Adam Schiff said, that we would resurrect the independent counsel law and have judges appoint an independent counsel beyond the president`s reach. Hopefully, Mueller once again would take effect, would happen.

So, this is absurd. It is, again, if the president -- I`d say this to the president and all the people around him. If you`ve done nothing wrong, why are you so afraid of people looking into it?

MADDOW: Senator Schumer, I have more than I want to ask you about, including the other big thing that`s happening simultaneously in the Senate right now alongside this Russia investigation. Can you stick around for just a minute, sir?

SCHUMER: I will stick around.

MADDOW: OK, Senator Chuck Schumer. We`ll be back with him in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We`re back live with the top Democrat in the Senate, Senator Schumer.

Thank you for staying with us, sir. Appreciate you being here.

I also wanted to ask you about -- just straight up, basic question about a huge issue that is playing out right now in the Capitol silently.

Is it your impression that Senate Republicans are about to repeal the Affordable Care Act? Are they working on that in such a way that we should expect a snap surprise vote?

SCHUMER: Well, they`re desperately trying, but they`re having trouble. The bill is such a nasty bill, that they`re having people -- they`re having trouble getting people to vote for it.

First, let`s look at what they`re doing Rachel. They are having no hearings, no amendments. They`re going to try to rush it through in ten hours of debate.

This would be one of the greatest acts of legislative malpractice in the long history of the Senate and Senator McConnell would not -- I don`t think -- could look in the mirror in the same way after he did something like this.

When we had the ACA bill, the Obama bill, there 170 amendments, Republican amendments by people like Grassley and Hatch were added to the bill, lots of hearings, long debate on the floor.

Why are they trying to hide this bill? Very simple, they are ashamed of this bill. They can`t -- they know that the American people will hate it. So they want to hide it. Today, they even tried for a while to ban cameras from the halls of Congress.

And they`re ashamed of the bill for very simple reasons, what it does -- taking millions off health care, making it harder to get covered with pre- existing conditions, removing money from opioid treatment, making it harder for young families to keep their parents who need it in nursing homes, over and over again.

And all because they want huge tax cut for the very, very wealthy. Everyone else will suffer. Everyone else will pay more for premiums and get less healthcare, so they can give a tax break to the richest of people, which is really why the hard right wants this bill. So, they`re ashamed of it and -- there`s such an outcry that even in a group like Republicans which tend to march in an army and not descend, they`re having trouble getting the votes.

They said -- the talk last Friday was, oh, they can get it done in two weeks now. Now, it`s three weeks, maybe into the July break and I would just urge your listeners, mobilize. This is red alert. This is not just a warning. This is the real deal. We`re a vote or two away from defeating this bill and if the public really makes their views known and puts a lot of heat on these Republican senators, we could well defeat it.

MADDOW: And, Senator, because of those process issues that you`re talking about, I mean, whether or not people care about various norms in terms of legislative processes, one of the logistical facts about the fact that this has happened without hearings, it`s happened very quietly. The text of the bill is secret and all that, is that it`s been hard to cover. It`s just been hard to follow journalistically.

We did hear today, though, that the president told Republican senators that he considered the bill to be mean -- as in mean-spirited.

SCHUMER: Yes.

MADDOW: Does that maybe the White House and Republican senators are also splitting on this?

SCHUMER: Well, the White House is realized this is a hot potato. And from time to time, they`ve under cut their own Republicans, and then the next day, they sort of whip them and say, you better -- you better pass this bill.

But the bill is mean. The president`s right. It`s one of the few times I agree with him. I`m sure there are 217 Republican congressmen just squirming that they voted for a mean bill and they know that`s going to be brought up to them in the campaigns in 2018. So, they`re not relishing that.

The bill is mean. And what the president next ought to say, if he were to follow things in a logical coherent way, would be, OK, let`s not repeal it the only result of repeal is meanness. Let`s work with the Democrats and improve Obamacare. We`re ready to do that once he abandons repeal.

But the hard right ideologues who so much want that big tax break for the rich people are not letting the Republican senators, the Republican House members and frankly the president do that.

MADDOW: Senator Schumer, before I let you go, I have to ask you about a former staffer of yours, Preet Bharara --

SCHUMER: Yes.

MADDOW: -- who went on to be U.S. attorney in southern district of New York.

SCHUMER: Yes.

MADDOW: Famously, he was told he could stay on before the attorney general and the president reversed course without explanation fired all the U.S. attorneys.

SCHUMER: Yes.

MADDOW: President`s personal lawyer, according to a report in "ProPublica" today is bragging that he told the president to fire Preet Bharara, telling the president that Bharara was, quote, going to get him.

Do you know why Preet Bharara or any of the U.S. attorneys was fired?

SCHUMER: No.

MADDOW: Do you know anything about that report today?

SCHUMER: No, I do not.

Let me just say this -- I didn`t tell the president I wanted him to hire Preet Bharara, although he was very glad I did. I said to the president when he called me he says, I like Preet Bharara. I`m thinking of appointing him, reappointing him. I said, Mr. President, if you were to do that, I didn`t him want to get it. I would be happy to support him.

And then he did, and somebody must have told him to do something. Preet Bharara is totally befuddled by why he was fired. I am totally befuddled.

But again, the odds that there was a good explanation, a positive explanation are minimal. What this person said, I have no basis to know it, in fact, but would seem kind of logical that at least they would be worried about a fearless prosecutor like Preet Bharara, the way they were worried about a fearless prosecutor like Comey and they waited now seemed to be worried about a fearless prosecutor like Mueller.

MADDOW: Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democrat in the United States Senate, thank you for talking to us tonight, sir. I appreciate your time.

SCHUMER: Thanks, Rachel. Have a nice evening.

MADDOW: You too. Thank you.

We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: All right. We are wrapping up here for the night. I should tell you that Senator Al Franken of Minnesota is going to be on live with Lawrence O`Donnell. He was referenced repeatedly and in a controversial way in today`s testimony by Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the United States Senate.

I do want to just hit one thing before we go, though. And that is that last question that I just raised with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. The president has his personal lawyer now, an outside lawyer who is apparently defending him on the Russia issue. It`s a New York, basically, business and real estate lawyer named Marc Kasowitz, who`s neither done anything like this defense of the president on a constitutional issue, like he`s dealing with now.

"ProPublica" reports today that Marc Kasowitz has bragged that he`s the one who got the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, Preet Bharara, fired as U.S. attorney, despite the fact that the president and attorney general had both told Preet Bharara that he can stay in his job. "ProPublica" is sourcing this to four people they say are familiar with these conversations.

They say that Kasowitz has been bragging that he told Trump, quote, this guy, meaning Preet Bharara, is going to get you, with the implication of being that Trump should then fire Bharara, so Bharara cannot come get him.

If that is why Preet Bharara was fired, that raises it`s whole -- a whole new set of questions about the behavior, improper or otherwise of this administration for people who might be in a position to investigate this president and that`s the president`s lawyer stepping in that without even being asked. His lawyer is going to need a lawyer soon.

But that does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tonight.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.

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