The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 6/29/2017 WSJ: GOP Researcher sought Clinton Emails

Guests: Shane Harris, Barbara Lee

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: June 29, 2017 Guest: Shane Harris, Barbara Lee

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

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. Thanks, my friend.

HAYES: You bet.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Thursday.

There is breaking news from the "Wall Street Journal" tonight that is a big story. It also looks like it may be the end of an era.

There`s a guy named Benjamin Wittes. He`s not that familiar a face. He`s not a household name.

For a long time, Ben Wittes covered the Justice Department as a reporter for "The Legal Times". He`s also written for conservative publications like "The Weekly Standard". He`s written for magazines like "The Atlantic". He spent a long time at "The Washington Post" on the editorial page staff.

Ben Wittes is now at Brookings. I actually don`t think he is a lawyer himself, but he is definitely known for his writing, for his very good writing actually, on legal issues, particularly as legal issues pertain to national security.

Ben Wittes now runs a well-regarded blog that`s called Lawfare, which I think is kind of a pun on warfare, Lawfare, warfare. Anyway. Lawfareblog.com.

So, Ben Wittes. On May 16th, this guy who just described, Ben Wittes, he did this online, on Twitter, which is a weird thing, right? Nobody knew what was wrong with him. Nobody knew exactly what this was about.

You can see the time stamp there right beneath the tick, tick, tick, tick. He sent it at 3:18 p.m. on May 16th. Hey, Ben Wittes, what`s that about?

Well, then later, boom -- literally the word boom. Two hours and eight minutes after that initial tweet, we now know in retrospect what that tick, tick, ticking was about. Ben Wittes tweeted "boom" and a link to that huge story that had just been posted at "The New York Times".

Quote: Comey memo says Trump asked him to end Flynn investigation.

That was a huge story when it broke and apparently somehow Ben Wittes knew it was coming out because he tweeted, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, two hours before it came, and then boom once it landed. That was May 16th.

And then two days after that, Ben Wittes started ticking again. At 3:44 in the afternoon that day, he tweets the same thing again, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. And then sure enough, four hours later, boom. And what he sent out with the word boom was once again the "New York Times" posting another huge story. This time it was, Comey unsettled by Trump is said to have wanted him kept at a distance. That was May 18th.

Then the very next day, May 19th, freaking Ben Wittes, you`re stressing me out, he starts tick, tick, ticking again. This time the boom goes off twice in one day. The first boom is just six minutes after he published the tick tick tick, "The New York Times" reporting Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office that he fired James Comey in order to take the pressure off himself over Russia. That was the first boom that day, after Ben Wittes tick, tick, ticking.

And then eight minutes after the first boom, a second boom, that bombshell "Washington Post" story: Russia probe reaches current White House official. The current White House official, a person of interest in the FBI`s investigation.

So, Ben Wittes, I was aware of him because of his reporting, because of the Lawfare blog before this, but now, he`s become the guy who ticks. He has continued to do this over and over again, all through the first part of this year.

On May 24th, he didn`t just say tick, tick, tick, he used a video of a literal burning fuse and a tiny explosion, instead of typing out tick, tick, tick, tick, he burned the fuse on a tiny cannon and, then boom. Later than day, it was "The New York Times" again. Top Russian officials discussed how to influence Trump campaign staff last summer. And then a few minutes later, boom again for this CNN story that broke that night. Quote: Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose Russia meetings in security clearance form.

So Ben Wittes has been doing this over and over again. He`s been doing this on scoops about the Russian scandal for weeks now.

Here he was on June 6th. You see the text he`s written there. Now, please don`t read anything into this but tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. And then again, two and a half hours later, we got the boom. In that case, it was: Comey told Sessions don`t leave me alone with Trump. And that, of course, may be part of the obstruction of justice investigation into the president now.

So tick, tick, tick. Ben Wittes with these tick, tick, tick, ahead of time, ahead of the scoop, and then boom, at once scoop comes out, he has become a very reliable provider of stress and anticipation when it comes to all of the next stuff, almost all of the new big developments in this scandal that has enveloped this young presidency.

Every time something big is about to come out, there`s Ben Wittes, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, and within a matter of hours, or sometime later, it pays off every time.

Tonight, though, Ben Wittes gave it up. Said he`s going to stop doing it. OK, folks, I`m officially retiring the tick, tick, tick thing. It was an attempt to give people a heads up as things were in the pipeline. He says to everyone it stressed out, apologies. He says he is retiring the tick, tick, tick.

But I should tell you, he did get in one last one today and this one he actually started the fuse burning on it a few days ago. A few days ago, it was actually all caps. He said the all caps on the tick, tick, tick that time were in honor of the expected magnitude of the detonation. It was June 23rd he ticked that. And then nothing happened that day.

And then three days later, June 26th, which is Monday of this week, he kept it going. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. And a few minutes after that, he clarified, he says this: three things, number one, not all tick, tick, ticks are related to James Comey, who Ben Wittes is known to be friends with. Number two, fuse length, meaning how long this is going to keep ticking, remains uncertain.

So, aha, right? That`s why it`s been a few days he`s been ticking on this one. And then his third point there he gives a hint. Interesting preemptive defense of collusion happening. So, that was Ben Wittes, right, the harbinger of scoops. That was him at the beginning of this week, Monday, Monday this week.

And now tonight, we finally got the boom. And, frankly, it`s what he says will be his final boom. He says he`s no longer going to do this tick, tick, tick boom things. This is it.

And the final one tonight is in fact a bombshell breaking news story about what he was hinting at, about what appears to be collusion or maybe an attempt at collusion. So for the final time on this tick, tick, tick, boom stress cycle, this is the story Ben Wittes linked to, this is what just broke tonight in "The Wall Street Journal". And it`s -- this is a big deal.

You see the headline there, Republican operative sought Clinton e-mails from hackers.

Now, the reporter on this story is veteran national reporter Shane Harris. Shane Harris is going to going to join us live here in just a minute to talk about this scoop.

What he`s reporting here, though, is about something that took place last summer. You will remember that the Democratic Party had its e-mail servers hacked and had its data stolen last year. It was not until the fall that we got an official declaration from our government that that was -- that that hack was the product of a Russian government attack. But last summer by late June, even though we didn`t have official confirmation from the government, it was credibly being reported that that attack against the Democratic Party appeared to be an attack by the Russian government.

And then by the end of the summer, by Labor Day, "The Washington Post" was able to report out this mega story on the Russian attack on the institutions of our election and U.S. government efforts to identify the attack and counter the attack.

Well, tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" reports, Shane Harris reports, that on that very weekend, on Labor Day weekend last year, a longtime Republican opposition research guy, a wealthy Chicago Republican named Peter Smith, who had a history in the Arkansas-based efforts to come up with scandalous dirt on Bill Clinton in the `90s, Peter Smith, a committed Republican oppo guy, over the Labor Day weekend this past year, according to "The Wall Street Journal," he, quote, assembled a group of technology experts, lawyers and a Russian-speaking investigator based in Europe to try to acquire e-mails that the group theorized might have been stolen from the private server that Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state.

So, put yourself in the time frame here that we`re talking about. This is Labor Day that he`s trying to do this, Labor Day weekend. Now, by that point, by that time, there really had been Democratic e-mails stolen from the DNC, and we would later find out there were e-mails stolen from Clinton`s campaign chairman as well.

Clinton`s e-mails from that private server from her time as secretary of state, that was a whole different matter. But Peter Smith and these people who he assembled, they apparently read the news that Democratic servers had been hacked by the Russians and they extrapolated, they basically mounted an effort to try to get Hillary Clinton`s private server e-mails off the Russians because they thought they must have hacked those, too.

Quote: In an interview with "The Journal", Mr. Smith said he and his colleagues found five groups of hackers who claimed to possess Hillary Clinton`s deleted e-mails, including two groups he determined were Russians. Quote: We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government, said Mr. Smith.

OK. So, he`s out there to try to contact Russians, contact the Russian hackers, to try to get e-mails they might have stolen from Hillary Clinton. And he contacts five different groups of hackers, at least two of them he thinks are definitely Russians. Does he get anything from them? Interesting answer.

Quoting from Shane Harris`s piece tonight. Quote: Mr. Smith said after vetting batches of e-mails offered to him by hackers groups last fall, he couldn`t be sure enough of their authenticity to leak them himself. He tells "The Journal", quote, we told all the groups to give them to WikiLeaks.

Now, WikiLeaks did publish a bunch of Democratic stuff that was stolen by the Russian government. But this stuff according to "The Journal", quote, WikiLeaks never published those e-mails or claimed to have them.

So, this is a Republican operative convening a team to try to work with people who they expect and believe to be the Russian government to try to get from them what they hope are e-mails stolen from Hillary Clinton. It`s clear the reason they wanted to get them is because they wanted to use the e-mails here in the United States against Hillary Clinton. And I don`t think I`m going too far out on a limb here to call that a literal example of colluding with the Russians in their attack on the United States, or at least trying to collude with them.

You can see why Ben Wittes went boom on this today for his final boom.

Now, important note here on this story. There is nothing that suggests that the guy who convened this group and hired the Russian speaker and all the rest, there`s nothing to suggest that he was part of the Trump campaign or that he was doing this on behalf of the Trump campaign. As "The Journal" puts it, quote, this appears to be an independent campaign by Mr. Smith. They actually put it in the subhead of the article, independent of the Trump campaign. Nobody says Peter Smith was part of the Trump campaign when he did this with the Russians.

So, to the extent that what he did looks like it might have been an attempt to knowingly collude with the Russian government or what sources close to the Russian government while they were attacking our election. To the extent that that`s what this is, that is on him and the other Americans who worked with him. That is not on the Trump campaign.

Except for one thing. According to multiple sources quoted in "The Wall Street Journal" tonight, this Republican operative, Peter Smith, he told people involved in this project in multiple ways and at multiple times that what he was doing, this little project he was working on to try to get these Clinton e-mails off the Russians, he told people over and over again that he was doing this with Mike Flynn, who definitely did work for the Trump campaign at the time.

This was all happening around Labor Day. Mike Flynn had joined the Trump campaign months earlier. He was a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

Peter Smith, this Republican operative in Chicago, reportedly said he was in direct communication with Flynn about what he was doing while he was doing it. Quoting from "The Journal" tonight, quote: In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, Mr. Smith complied he was working with Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump.

He said, quote, I`m talking to Michael Flynn about this. If you find anything, can you let me know?

That was said by Eric York, a computer security expert from Atlanta, who did search hacker forums on Peter Smith`s behalf, looking for people who might have access to the Clinton e-mails.

Quote, in one Smith e-mail reviewed by "The Wall Street Journal" intended outsiders to join the work, Smith offered to make introductions to Mike Flynn`s son, who worked at chief of staff in his father`s company. In another recruiting e-mails seen by "The Wall Street Journal," a law student Mr. Smith described as a close colleague included links to the Web sites and LinkedIn profiles of people purportedly working with Smith`s team trying to contact the weapons.

At the top of the list was the name and Web site of Flynn Intel, which is Mike Flynn`s consulting groups. In phone conversations, Peter Smith told a computer expert he was in direct contact with Mr. Flynn and his son. That`s according to the expert, who is not named in this article.

Now, Mike Flynn is not commenting to "The Journal" himself. The Trump campaign is trying to push this so far away from themselves, but at this point, they`re dangling it out the window.

This is the statement that Shane Harris got from the Trump campaign. Quote, a Trump campaign official said that Peter Smith did not work for the campaign, OK, and that if Mike Flynn coordinated with Mike Smith in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual, even though Flynn was a senior adviser to the Trump campaign at the time this was happening.

Flynn was on board with the Trump campaign at the time this was happening. He was senior adviser to the Trump campaign at the time this was happening. He was soon to be designated as Trump`s pick to be national security adviser.

If he was working as part of this effort to contact the Russians to get what they had on Clinton, that`s -- boom.

And here`s probably the most important part. This piece in "The Wall Street Journal" tonight is multiply sourced. It includes even an interview with the guy who reportedly set this thing up, Peter Smith. Although I should tell you, Shane Harris also reports that Peter Smith died ten days after doing this "Wall Street Journal" interview, in which he described what he did.

In terms of corroborating his account, though, there`s really big news on that front. Look at this, quote: The operation Peter Smith described is consistent with information that has been examined by U.S. investigators probing Russian interference in the elections.

According to U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence, quote, investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain e-mails from Mrs. Clinton`s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary.

In advance of this report tonight, Ben Wittes was tick, tick, ticking like you can`t believe, for days. And you know, conservative media and Republicans really did start to proactively say that colluding with the Russian attack, maybe that`s not such a big deal.

In the last few days, conservative media, supporters of Mr. Trump have started to say if anybody did collude with the Russians in this attack, that`s OK. That`s not a big deal. We`re not going to be upset about that if we learn that.

Well, here`s what appears to be the first concrete evidence of an attempt by Americans to collude with the Russians in their attack. Boom.

Joining us now is Shane Harris, national security senior writer for "The Wall Street Journal."

Mr. Harris, congratulations on this tonight. I really appreciate you making time to help us through it.

SHANE HARRIS, NATIONAL SECURITY SENIOR WRITER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thanks, Rachel. Glad to be here.

MADDOW: Let me ask you first if I got anything wrong in the way that I explained that.

HARRIS: No, you got it right.

MADDOW: OK. I have to ask you first about a small but very human detail here, which is that Peter Smith, who did an interview for this story, he died in May, you say about ten days after you spoke to him. Can I just ask you about the circumstances of the interview and the circumstances of his death and that part of it?

HARRIS: Sure. Well, oddly enough, Peter Smith reached out to me. He apparently learned I was looking around and interested in him, which is true. My knowledge of what he was involved in predated my first contact with him, reached out to me and we had a conversation about what he was doing, which was fairly extensive and obviously he`s quoted in the story.

And it was at that point that when we suspend that conversation that I continued doing reporting and assumed in this case, perhaps incorrectly, that I would have the chance to go back and discuss this further with Peter Smith. But obviously he died about ten days after I spoke with him.

So, it was on the record. He reached out to me. He was in no way ashamed of what he had done. He was actually quite proud of it and fervently believed that these e-mails would eventually surface. He really believed that he was at nearly the last chapter of a long saga and that soon these e-mails would come to light and that he would ultimately be vindicated in this quest that he was on.

MADDOW: And from the way you describe your interview with him, it seems clear he was fully aware to the point where he engaged a Russian speaker as part of his efforts, he was fully aware that he was dealing with Russian hackers and explicitly told you that he believed the people he would be trying to reach would be close to the Russian government. So, he seems to have known this was a Russian government attack and that he was trying to reach out to them to try to use what they`d been able to find here.

HARRIS: Yes, that`s right. I think he concluded and perhaps not illogically, I should say, that Secretary Clinton being a former secretary of state, Russians at the time, of course, were believed to have hacked the DNC, that he was likely to find a potential group of candidates, people who might have this information among Russian hackers. He was a little cautious, I should say, in describing exactly who this investigator was that he had hired, but clearly he had a network of people working with him that he believed could make contact with folks who might have access to this information and he set up a fairly elaborate process to try and vet it as well.

But, yes, he knew clearly when going into this that he was likely to run into Russian contact with folks who might have access to this information and he set up a fairly elaborate process to try and vet it as well. But, yes, he knew clearly when going into this that he was likely to run into Russian individuals claiming to have Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.

MADDOW: Now, Shane, on the point of the connection to the Trump campaign, General Flynn did not respond to your request for comment, you noted in the piece and Flynn has not commented publicly on this matter whatsoever. But if this is an example of people trying to contact the Russians to get what they have to use it here, that`s obviously a very sensitive issue if that can be linked directly to the Trump campaign. That`s a matter of investigation.

What you describe as being this effort by Mr. Smith and what you described as being -- part of what U.S. investigators have seen looking into this, is it clear to you that U.S. investigators stumbled upon evidence or found evidence of what Smith was doing and that`s part of the potential collusion that they are investigating?

HARRIS: That`s not entirely clear at this point.

MADDOW: OK.

HARRIS: I think my best kind of assessment of this is that what we have found may be one end of something that other investigators are looking at. You know, as we said in the piece, it`s not entirely clear that investigators who have seen this intelligence about Russian hackers describing a situation looks very similar to the one that Peter Smith described, it`s not clear he has been identified in any way or anyone associated with him as the intermediary.

So, I think what we may have potentially found here, and we do not know, is perhaps the other side of a coin that investigators were looking at. The timeframes are very similar. The activities that are described in the intelligence reporting as we understand it are very similar to what Peter Smith described.

MADDOW: Shane Sarris, senior writer on national security issues for "The Wall Street Journal," sole byline on this major story tonight, thank you for being here tonight to help us understand it. I appreciate it. Congratulations.

HARRIS: Thanks for having me, Rachel. I appreciate it.

MADDOW: Thanks.

All right. Again, "The Wall Street Journal" today breaking this news that -- it`s a fascinating story in a human level, but if this bears out and the White House is not commenting and Mike Flynn is not commenting, but this appears to be the first clear reported connection between the Trump campaign in the form of Michael Flynn and the Russian attack with this well-described, well-sourced effort by American Republican operatives looking to contact the Russians who they knew were attacking the United States to try to get stuff from them, get stuff from the Russians on Clinton that they could use here.

If Flynn is implicated in that effort, that would seem to mean that the Trump campaign is implicated in working with the Russians, attempting to work with the Russians to further the aims of their attack in this country. It`s a really -- it`s a really big deal.

Much more to come tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: So, we`re absorbing this new information tonight from "The Wall Street Journal." Their scoop, Shane Harris`s scoop that a Republican operative said he was working with Michael Flynn, contacted Russian hackers last year to try to get Clinton e-mails from them that could be used against Clinton in the campaign. That is the first direct reported evidence of complicity and attempted collusion between any Americans and the Russian government, in the Russian attack on our election last year to try to hurt Clinton`s chances in the election and help Donald Trump.

Now, if the connection between that Russian -- excuse me, that Republican operative, if that connection between the Republican operative and Mike Flynn is substantiated, if Flynn was also aware of or involved in that effort, that would be the first reported direct evidence of the Trump campaign itself trying to collude with the Russians in their attack on the election. So, that`s just broken tonight in "The Wall Street Journal."

In addition to that very big new news tonight, here`s something about the fight over this investigation. I tried to give a little heads up about this on last night`s show. We flagged this letter from the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, and a sub committee chair on that same committee, Senator Lindsey Graham, they wrote a letter to the FBI requesting that the FBI hand over all warrants, all its warrants requests, all its draft warrant requests that they issued so far in their Russia investigation and in the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

They also have demanded to see the response that the courts have given after the FBI has made these requests for warrants. Now, as I said last night, what Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley appear to be up to with this request is not only attempting to lay bare everything the FBI is working on in their investigation, but it would appear to be part of them basically trying to discredit or undermine the FBI`s investigation, trying to say that the whole FBI investigation, all stemmed from that famous dossier of allegations against Trump and his campaign that was published with great controversy by "BuzzFeed" in January.

Graham and Grassley are basically implying that dossier of material is unproven and suspect. They are implying with this letter that the FBI`s whole investigation of the Trump campaign is based on that dossier and so, therefore, it`s all suspect, the whole FBI investigation is suspect.

Now, I also noted last night that conservative media have started this week to go after Andrew McCabe, who is the acting director of the FBI. And he has been acting director of the FBI since the president fired James Comey. I gave you that heads up last night that this new strategy was taking shape, these Republican attacks on the FBI, basically to give that heads up so you should know to be on the lookout for the stuff coming down the pike.

Even though I gave that heads up last night, I was even kind of surprised myself at how fast it sort of all came to fruition, because today there is this new letter from Chuck Grassley to the Justice Department. This one alerts the Deputy General Rod Rosenstein about Andrew McCabe. It says the Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe has, quote, apparent conflicts of interest, apparent conflicts in ongoing FBI investigations.

This letter from Chuck Grassley demands to know what steps Rod Rosenstein and the Justice Department are going to take to, quote, address the appearance of political and other conflicts of interest by Andrew McCabe.

All these conservative media stories over the last few days going after Andrew McCabe are carefully footnoted in Senator Grassley`s letter. Always properly cite your sources. So, we saw in the conservative media this foretold over stories over the last week or so.

But what Chuck Grassley is doing in his official capacity as the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, it`s important. I mean, there are two Republican senators who are in charge of leading investigations into Russia and the Trump campaign and obstruction of justice, Richard Burr in Intelligence and Chuck Grassley in Judiciary, and one of those Republicans has now decided that the FBI is the problem here. He is going after the FBI and apparently trying to discredit their investigation in terms of its origins and to discredit the man leading the FBI right now, Andrew McCabe.

This new strategy to go after Andrew McCabe specifically is important, not just because McCabe is acting director of the FBI while the FBI is doing these investigations. The reason it`s important they`re going after him is because he`s also potentially a corroborating witness in an obstruction of justice inquiry into the president. Andrew McCabe now is acting director of the FBI, used to be deputy director of the FBI. And when he was deputy director of the FBI under James Comey, we know that he was one of the handful of high-ranking FBI officials who James Comey went to and talked to about his conversations with President Trump when he says Trump told him basically to kibosh the Russia investigation.

James Comey wrote contemporaneous memos about those conversations with president. He also at the time briefed a handful of trusted high ranking FBI colleagues, including Andrew McCabe, which means Andrew McCabe conceivably can corroborate Comey`s testimony that Trump pressured him to drop an ongoing FBI investigation.

If the president`s allies, if Republicans in Congress can successfully tarnish the whole FBI investigation and the credibility of the acting director of the FBI, if they get Andrew McCabe specifically, they have taken a big step toward undermining, for one, the incredibly damning testimony of James Comey against the president in this obstruction of justice inquiry. If they can tarnish the investigation as a whole, if they can muddy the waters enough, that`s the strategy we can see taking shape before our eyes right now.

It is fascinating to watch the White House fight back against this investigation and try to smear everybody who is part of investigating the president and his campaign. It is now Republicans in Congress too, including some of the most important Republicans who are supposedly in charge of investigating this thing. And for some reason, it`s not really being treated around the country as big news but it`s not exactly happening in secret. You can see it if you just look at what they`re doing.

Stop listening to the noise coming out of the White House. Watch what people are doing.

Joining us now is Matthew Miller, former chief spokesman for the Justice Department.

Mr. Miller, thank you very much for being here. We really appreciate your time.

MATTHEW MILLER, FORMER DOJ OFFICIAL: Of course.

MADDOW: Let me ask you about what I think is going on here. Let me ask you about Chairman Grassley, for example, raising a question about whether or not the acting FBI director is somehow tainted, whether he should be recused, whether he is somehow suspect and therefore the FBI is suspect in terms of its investigation into Michael Flynn.

What do you make of those accusations from Grassley?

MILLER: Well, first of all in the substance of them, I think they`re pretty frivolous. There are a number of reasons why you have to recuse yourself, for an investigation at DOJ. Most of them go to whether if you have a stake in the outcome, either a personal stake, usually a financial stake, or, you know, a family stake, say if your spouse is involved in an organization or a close friend of yours, or in other circumstances where you may be a witness in the case you can`t be involved in the investigation.

So, I think it`s a pretty frivolous attempt by Grassley to try and discredit him. But it`s in keeping what they`ve done, as you pointed out, not just with Grassley, but remember, they`ve been attacking Bob Mueller, the Republicans have been attacking a number of the people who work for Bob Mueller, pointing out they contributed to Democrats in the past, something which is never been a disqualifying act at the Justice Department.

It`s long been assumed you can work at the Justice Department and contribute to Republicans, contribute to Democrats. And that does not taint your judgment, your ability to carry out justice for the United States.

MADDOW: So, you alluded there to something that`s going on in a broader scope. And we have seen -- there`s been a lot of focus on whether or not the president will try to fire Bob Mueller. He already did fire James Comey, right?

MILLER: Right.

MADDOW: We`ve seen political attacks and criticism and now accusations of bias from Republicans and from the White House against Bob Mueller, against James Comey, who was fired, against Rod Rosenstein, including directly from the president himself, going after Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, now, after Andrew McCabe. Are any of -- Comey`s obviously already been fired. But are these other officials vulnerable to pressure to being fired, to being somehow pushed out of their role in this ongoing investigation?

MILLER: So, let`s start with the most important one, Bob Mueller. I don`t think Bob Mueller is vulnerable to pressure in any way at all. I worked with him. He is as tough a guy as there is, and he`s going to do whatever he wants to do in this investigation, you know, free -- no matter what anyone does to put pressure on him.

That said, he can be fired. It would be complicated, it would be difficult. The president would have to do it by either firing Rod -- by either directing Rosenstein to do it and hoping that Rosenstein would do it, something he has kind of implied he would not do, or in a complicated way, he could waive the regulations and eventually fire Mueller. So, it is possible. I don`t think he`s going to succumb to pressure but he could be fired.

But then you look at Rod Rosenstein. He`s been talking pretty good game in the last few weeks since he appointed Bob Mueller, but he`s succumbed to pressure before. I mean, let`s not forget, you know, Rod Rosenstein is the person that wrote the memo justifying James Comey`s firing. And it`s really hard to believe when you wrote that memo, he didn`t know why Comey was really being fired.

So, you`d like to think he would -- he would withstand the kind of pressure a president can put on you, but we`ve seen in the past that`s not always been the case with him.

MADDOW: Matthew Miller, former chief spokesman for the Justice Department -- Mr. Miller, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much.

MILLER: Thank you.

MADDOW: I will say -- just keep your eyes on what happens here with this Judiciary Committee investigation. This is supposed to be looking at obstruction of justice. So far, the chairman of that committee is leading the charge to try to discredit the investigation being conducted at the FBI into exactly that same thing, as well as the FBI investigation into the Russian matter more broadly.

It seems like a really big deal to me to have the Republicans who are directly involved in those matters trying to discredit the FBI. Maybe this will become a bigger story soon. But in the meantime, watch for it yourself.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We are old in cable news years. I mean, some of us are old in general. But this show has been on the air for more than eight years now. It will be nine years in September.

And there is something that I have been waiting to happen in the news for the entire nine years that we have been on the air doing this show. Honestly, we`ve covered it every year that I have done this show. I had started to believe it would never, never, never, never happen. We`ve been waiting all of these years.

You know what, you could have knocked me over with a feather if you ever tried to convince me that after all these years, this thing we`ve been waiting for would finally happen now. So there was certainly no warning that it was going to happen now, but finally today, it happened. I`m absolutely flabbergasted. I`ve been waiting for this for almost nine years.

The only person more surprised that this happened today than me is the person who made it happen herself. And she joins us here tonight next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I almost cannot believe this happened. An incredible thing happened in Congress today. Incredible in the literal sense, not credible. I almost do not believe it, completely unexpected.

It concerned the law passed by Congress right after the 9/11 attacks. It was the law that gave the president at the time, George W. Bush, authorization to use all necessary force against those who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th.

One lawmaker, only one lawmaker, voted against that authorization for the use of military force at the time in 2001. It was California Congresswoman Barbara Lee. She cautioned that it was overbroad and it would be used to justify things beyond just an immediate response to 9/11.

But she was the only one who voted no. And over the years that law, that 9/11 go get `em law has been used by presidents of both parties over these 16 years as the legal basis for lots of stuff that has nothing to do with 9/11. They`ve used it as the legal basis for everything, for at least 37 different U.S. military operations in at least 14 different countries. Drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia, wars and military actions of various sizes in Afghanistan, in Ethiopia, in Kenya, the whole war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

It`s always been a little strange, a matter of dubious legality that these 16 years of all these different wars were all supposedly justified by that one law passed right after 9/11, that only authorized force specifically against the people who attacked on 9/11. But it`s just gone on and on.

The idea of finally closing out that authorization and debating a new authorization for the wars we`re fighting now, that`s become kind of a boutique interest of a small cadre of mostly Democratic lawmakers, some Republicans, too. But people who have taken a high-profile role are people like Senator Tim Kaine, Congressmen Adam Schiff in the House, along with Barbara Lee, who was the original no vote.

These Democrats have basically been out in the wilderness for years, trying unsuccessfully to enlist their colleagues into narrowing the scope of that overly broad authorization. Toward getting us honest as a country as to what we`re doing with military force in that 9/11 authorization.

On this show, you see those different pieces of tape there, on this show, over the years, we have extensively covered everything that`s happened militarily since 9/11, supposedly under the auspices of those who attacked us 16 years ago. And we`ve covered it in efforts to try to get a new authorization for the use of military force. We have covered it all these years, honestly, without any reasonable expectation on my part that this would ever change. After 16 years, why would it start changing now?

There`s always been very good arguments for why it should change. It`s never going to change.

And then today, something weird and unexpected happened. Members of the House Appropriations Committee, both Republicans and Democrats, stood up to support Barbara Lee, as she once again offered her amendment. She put this forward each and every year for the past decade, repealing the 2001 authorization for the use of military force.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: I think she has raised an important point. I think she`s done it repeatedly and effectively, and I think the Congress ought to listen to what she has to say.

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: I know that from my friends who are the military now, they noticed that Congress doesn`t have the guts to stand up and have this debate.

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: I want to rise and support, as well too. We`ve seen a disproportionate sacrifice with the military community who has gone over and over again and I believe that we owe them the debate.

Rep. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER (D), MARYLAND: I`m going to be with you on this, and your tenacity has come through. And I think right now, that this is what`s important for America and that we need to move forward on this. So, we`re going to -- I`m going to vote yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. You`re making converts all over the place, Ms. Lee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: You can hear them realize something`s about to start happening there. You saw the partisan affiliations of all those people speaking there, right? It was a bunch of Republicans and Democrats, right? She`s been bringing this up every year and never gets anywhere with it, but then, today, something even more remarkable happened after all the shows of support, when it came time to actually vote on Barbara Lee`s amendment. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: This resolution came before the Congress three days, September 14th. It was overly broad, it was 60 years. And I think at this point, 16 years later, given the nature of the threats we face, that we should in a bipartisan way support my amendment. Thank you.

REP. RODNEY FRELINGHUYSEN (R), NEW JERSEY: Thank you, Ms. Lee.

The question is on the Lee amendment. All those in favor say aye.

CROWD: Aye.

FRELINGHUYSEN: All those opposed say nay.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Nay.

FRELINGHUYSEN: In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it. Thank you, Ms. Lee. Further amendments?

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Spontaneous applause breaks out after the vote. The chair is like, oh, that just passed. That vote caught everybody by surprise, obviously including the chair.

But the surprise went so far as to include Congresswoman Lee herself. Look at what she tweeted afterwards. Whoa. Whoa. My amendment to sunset the authorization for use of military force in 2001 was adopted.

No one as surprised as she was. She did it. It took her all these years. She did it today.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRELINGHUYSEN: The question is on the Lee amendment. All those in favor, say aye.

CROWD: Aye.

FRELINGHUYSEN: All those opposed say nay.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Nay.

FRELINGHUYSEN: In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it. Thank you, Ms. Lee. Further amendments?

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Applause in the room. Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California is on the Appropriations Committee. She`s been a voice in the wilderness trying to get Congress to vote on military force, to debate military force, to stop relying all these year later on the last time they did that in 2001 on 9/11.

Today, after years of trying to get it done, she got her amendment passed to do just that. It was approved in committee today, tons of bipartisan support. An apparent miracle. Spontaneous applause.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee joins us now.

Congresswoman, congratulations. Thank you so much for being here with us tonight.

LEE: Thank you. I`m happy to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: I can see that in your smile.

Am I right that even you were caught by surprise after all these years of trying to do this?

LEE: Well, Rachel, first let me say, this is really a big deal, and I was cautiously optimistic. I`ll tell you why.

I have been working day and night and talking with Republicans and Democrats at least for ten years about why we should repeal this resolution and I have tried -- this authorization, excuse me. And I have tried every which way through amendments and appropriations, through amendments on the defense authorization bill, through freestanding legislation where I think the last time we got about 140 votes on the floor, somewhere around that.

And so, we`ve been building. I`ve been working. I`ve been working very hard with my colleagues to try to get to this point.

And so, this was a major victory, I think, today for the American people, for our young men and women in uniform, and for the country, because Congress must stop being missing in action on matters of war and peace.

MADDOW: Now, am I right on the specifics of this, that this would give -- if this passes, it would give the Congress eight months, a good, long amount of time to come up with a new authorization for the use of military force, something new to declare -- something new to declare that authorization so we`re no longer relying on what happened back 16 years ago? Is that right?

LEE: Right, Rachel. Upon the signing of this legislation, it would stay in effect for eight months. That would give us time to debate the pros and cons of a new authorization to use force, bring forth however many there would be, debate the issues, and then vote up or down on a new authorization.

And I just have to say that the 2001 authorization, Rachel, it was passed in three days with a couple of hours of debate. I don`t even think it was two hours of debate. So believe you me, Congress can and should pass a new resolution within eight months because the American people deserve this. It`s our job. We have been missing in action, and I am so pleased that we had bipartisan support to do this.

MADDOW: Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California on the Appropriations Committee, a model and monument to perseverance. Will you come back as this goes through the process here? We`d love to stay in touch with you through this.

LEE: I will, Rachel, because this is a major first step, but we have a long way to go. And, hopefully, the Republican leadership hears the voices of the people and the voices of their caucus and continues to help work with us to get this done.

MADDOW: I hear you tonight, Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

LEE: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: That does it for us tonight. Thank you for being with us on this fine Thursday night. We will be back tomorrow night on what promises to be an excellent night for Friday night news dumps.

Friday night after close of business is always a great time to dump bad news or at least embarrassing news. But Friday night before a holiday weekend? Come on! You`re guaranteed to get good stuff.

That does it for us tonight.

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

Good evening, Lawrence.

END

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