Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 19, 2017 Guest: Adam Schiff, Walter Shaub
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Our coverage continues.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now. Good luck getting through your show without 18,000 pieces of breaking news.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I was just going to say, yes, lucky you, Joy, you`re going to be sitting in for Chris tonight, while 10 major stories break all at once, all in the hour before you`re on the air or while you`re there.
REID: Chris got me good. He got me good.
MADDOW: He said, I need somebody with six arms to juggle the show and Joy keeps those four in reserve.
REID: They`re going. Your turn. Pass.
MADDOW: Thank you, my friend. Cheers. Thanks a lot.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour, on a night when there is a lot of news breaking. There`s news breaking in Washington. There`s news breaking outside of Washington that relates to our politics.
And there`s also some serious and sad news breaking tonight. Within the last hour, we got news from the Mayo Clinic that Arizona Senator John McCain has a brain tumor.
Now, I`m just going to read to you from a statement put out less than an hour ago from the Mayo Clinic.
Quote, on Friday, July 14th, so last Friday, Senator John McCain underwent a procedure to remove a blood clot from above his left eye, at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix. Subsequent tissue pathology revealed that a primary brain tumor known as a glioblastoma was associated with the blood clot. Scanning done since the procedure, which was a minimally invasive craniotomy with an eyebrow incision, scanning then since that procedure shows that the tissue of concern was completely resected by imaging criteria.
And I am not a doctor, but in layman`s terms, I think that means they were satisfied that the tumor was removed.
Quote: The senator and his family are reviewing further treatment options with his Mayo Clinic care treatment. Treatment options may include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. The senator`s doctors say he`s recovering from his surgery, quote, amazingly well, and his underlying health is excellent.
Again, that statement coming out from the Mayo Clinic just in the last hour. Senator McCain`s office also released this statement at the same time.
Quote, Senator McCain appreciates the outpouring of support he`s received over the last few days. He`s in good spirits as he continues to recover at home with his family in Arizona. He`s grateful to the doctors and staff at Mayo Clinic for their outstanding care. He`s confident any future treatment will be effective. Further consultations with Senator McCain`s Mayo Clinic care team will indicate when he will return to the United States Senate.
So, that is what we have this evening. That`s all of it, from John McCain`s office and from the doctors who are treating him.
Now, the Mayo Clinic describes glioblastoma as an aggressive type of cancer. It`s a type of cancer that can be very difficult to treat. But Mayo Clinic says you can treat it. If you can treat it, then the treatment can slow its progression. And then again, the Mayo Clinic statement saying his care may include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
Senator McCain is 80 years old. He has represented Arizona in the Senate since 1987. And he represented Arizona for several years before that in the House. He, of course, survived five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, held in absolutely horrific conditions, and subject to torture.
His bouts later in life with a potentially deadly form of skin cancer are attributed in part to those years he was held in captivity, including time that he was held outside. So, tonight, there are prayers and thoughts all across the country for Senator McCain.
Like I said in that crossover with Joy a moment ago, there is, not kidding, there is a lot going on tonight. It was a big news day anyway. But we really do have several big breaking news stories that just stacked up over the last hour and a half. And we`re handling all of those, including those that seem to be breaking just now.
But with all of that, this news about John McCain, it`s not good. And it`s an upbeat statement from his family and everybody wishes him all the best. But at the core, this is sad news and bad news for a senator who is also undoubtedly, inarguably an American war hero.
So, we`ll let you know if there`s further updates from the senator`s family or from his doctors.
While we absorb that news, and monitor that news, though, I think we also have to say that tonight we are probably on resignation watch when it comes to the attorney general of the United States. Jeff Sessions, Jefferson Beauregard Jefferson III, he was a low profile backbench Republican senator from Alabama when he became the first and for a long time the only member of the U.S. Senate to endorse Donald Trump for president very early on in the Trump campaign.
Jeff Sessions was not known for passing legislation in the Senate. He was not known for being particularly close with any other group of senators, or being any type of senator in particular other than being super conservative. If he was known for anything, it was for his beyond hard line position against immigration. Jeff Sessions was the Republican in the Senate who didn`t just inveigh against illegal immigrants, he`s against legal immigrants, too.
That hard line Jeff Sessions anti-immigrant stance became a central part of Donald Trump`s campaign after Sessions and Trump made their alliance. And, you know, in the end, it seemed like sort of a small detail at the time, it`s turned out to be really important over time that Trump not only took on Sessions as an endorsee and a surrogate, Trump also took on Sessions` staff from his Senate office. And in taking on Sessions` staff, he ended up taking on a lot of Jeff Sessions` policy positions.
When Donald Trump had policy positions as a candidate, they tended to come whole cloth out of this policy shop that Jeff Sessions set up for Trump. So, their relationship, it was more than an endorser/endorsee relationship. It was a different kind of thing and a more substantive kind of thing.
Donald Trump, what I think of it is that he basically absorbed Jeff Sessions, to the extent that he became a politician during the campaign. It was because Jeff Sessions and his whole operation was just absorbed into Trump Inc.
And then after Donald Trump won the election, Jeff Sessions was the first announcement he made for his cabinet. It was announced that Jeff Sessions would be attorney general in the Trump administration. Well, tonight, it feels like that might not last.
"The New York Times" just published an interview with President Trump in which he threatens to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating him on the Russia investigation. He criticizes Robert Mueller and says Mueller has conflicts of interest in the Russia investigation, conflicts that the president says he knows about and hasn`t yet revealed them, but he will.
He also rips the acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, which might sound random, but it`s becoming a talking point on the FOX News Channel and in conservative media in recent days and so maybe we should have seen that coming. The president in this new interview also casts dispersions on the deputy attorney general of the United States, who is someone he appointed to that job. Rod Rosenstein, who is the one now overseeing the Trump- Russia investigations at the Justice Department because Attorney General Jeff Sessions is supposedly recused from them.
In the same interview, though, importantly, the president also rips the attorney general himself, Jeff Sessions, who he has been seen as so close to, and who really did a huge amount toward making Trump a Republican candidate, instead of just an iconoclastic, conservative, free-floating, nonparty affiliated candidate in the primary.
In this new interview tonight, the president criticizes his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in such a way that in normal times, we would expect an official criticize this way by the president to resign before the evening is over. That said, these are not normal times. So, who knows?
We don`t have a transcript of this interview yet from "The New York Times" tonight. We just have their write-up of, which is basically their characterization and a few coats, a few direct quotes from the president. They did, though, release this one piece of audio.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sessions gets the job. Right after he gets the job he recuses himself.
NYT REPORTER: Is that a mistake?
TRUMP: Well, Sessions should never have recused himself. And if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.
NYT REPORTER: He gave you no heads up at all.
So, Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself. If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, thanks, Jeff, but I can`t -- you know, I`m not going to take you. It`s extremely unfair. And that`s a mild word, to the president.
So, he recuses himself. I then end up with a second man who`s a deputy.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: So that`s the only audio that we`ve got. And we don`t have yet a transcript from "The Times." But just from that audio, first of all, we know that President Trump speaks about himself as the president in the third person as if that`s not him.
Second, there`s a very interesting question that he`s pointing at, that doesn`t at all seem obvious to me, maybe I`m just being dense here. But when he says it`s unfair to the president, meaning himself, that his attorney general has recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigation, why is that unfair? Why is that unfair unless you would want your attorney general overseeing the Russia investigation in a way that was favorable to you, right?
I mean, the reason Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation is because the Russia investigation is about the Trump campaign, and Jeff Sessions was a big part of the Trump campaign. He actually recused himself from all investigative matters that might have anything to do with the campaign, with the Clinton campaign or the Trump campaign, with anything that happened in the campaign for the presidency in 2016.
Why would that be unfair to the president? For him to take himself out of an oversight role of investigations into that? Unless Trump believes the only way to be fair, and to fairly treat the president in that regard is to oversee those investigations in a way that is favorable to him. So, there`s that.
Like I said, that`s the only tape that we`ve got and we don`t yet have a transcript. I will tell you, though, the last thing he said there in the tape was, so he recuses himself, meaning Jeff Sessions. I then end up with a second man who is a deputy.
From "The Times`" write-up about this tonight, it seems like the next thing that the president might have said there about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is this. This is quoting from the text of the piece. Quote, the president expressed discontent with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a former federal prosecutor from Baltimore.
When Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, the president said he was, get this, irritated to learn where his deputy was from. Quote, there are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.
So, maybe Rod Rosenstein will resign tonight, too. Or maybe Rod Rosenstein should be on resignation watch as well. I mean, the president is publicly calling into question his ability to do his job because of his partisan leanings or lack thereof, which is a public expression of lack of confidence by the president in the deputy attorney general who in the case of the Russian investigation is the acting attorney general. Again, that is the sort of thing that would typically cause a public official to resign immediately. But again, we don`t know what to expect tonight.
Now, as I also mentioned in this interview tonight, the president casts some aspersions on the deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. We don`t yet have a quote from "The Times" about that, we just have their characterization of the president criticizing him. So I think we`ll wait until we get the transcript, or additional audio from "The Times" before we get into too much detail there, rather than going with a paraphrased set of criticism.
When it comes to Robert Mueller, though, they are fairly explicit as to what he says about special counsel Robert Mueller. Quote, Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest. And warned -- and the president -- the president warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia.
Quote, Mr. Trump said he never order the justice -- excuse me -- Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office.
Asked if Mr. Mueller`s investigation would cross a red line, if it expanded to look at his family`s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, quote, I would say yes. I think that`s a violation.
Well, as noted last hour, with Joy Reid, when she spoke with reporter David Cay Johnston, who is the reporter who obtained the only two pages of Donald Trump`s federal tax returns that have ever been made public, this reference, would it be a red line if Mueller started looking into finances, into the Trump family finances, and the president saying, yes, I think that would be a red line, I think that`s a violation. I don`t know if this is what "The Times" reporter is referring to when they asked him that question.
But as soon as this interview posted tonight at "The New York Times," "The New York Times" also posted in their business section a big news story about Deutsche Bank, which is the president`s biggest lender. Deutsche Bank has an unusual financial relationship to Donald Trump. As David Cay Johnston and other financial reporters have documented, when other banks, when almost every other major bank would no longer do business with Donald Trump and the Trump organization, Deutsche Bank continued to, and he -- they remain his largest lender.
Deutsche Bank is also on the hook to tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for their role in Russian money laundering schemes in recent years. But according to "The Times" tonight, banking regulators are reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump`s businesses through Deutsche Bank`s private wealth management unit, which caters to an ultra-rich clientele. "The Times" is citing three people briefed on the review who were not authorized to speak publicly. The regulators want to know if the loans might have exposed the rank to heightened risks.
Separately and this is the key point for us tonight, Deutsche Bank has been in contact with federal investigators about the Trump accounts. They`re citing two people briefed on the matter. And the bank is expected to eventually have to provide information to Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump campaign`s ties to Russia.
So, in two separate stories tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting that Deutsche Bank is expecting to have to hand over its Trump related records, its Trump related financial and banking records to Robert Mueller as special counsel. And, the president is telling "New York Times" reporters tonight that if Robert Mueller delves too far into his finances, he would consider that a red line. He would consider that a violation, never saying explicitly that he would fire Mr. Mueller, but clearly making that threat.
If the president fired the special counsel investigating Russia after he fired the FBI director who`s investigating Russia, presumably all H-E double hockey sticks would break loose in Washington, right? Republicans would start to come loose from their partisan moorings on this issue, presumably? But who knows? The president is clearly threatening to fire the special counsel tonight if he looks into the president`s finances. "The Times" separately reporting tonight that Robert Mueller is looking into the president`s finances.
With all that said, the immediate question, and the question that may shape everything that happens next on this subject, is whether or not the attorney general will now feel that he is forced to quit, now that the president has expressed more than a lack of confidence in him, now that the president has expressed regret that he`s in that job.
Again, the president saying on tape tonight that he wishes he would have chosen someone else to be attorney general. That alone would usually be enough to cause instant resignation of any cabinet official so described by the president at whose pleasure they serve. I should tell you, though, that that`s not all. In the same interview, the president also goes further when it comes to Jeff Sessions and all but accuses him of lying to the Senate. About Jeff Sessions` own contacts with Russian officials.
Quoting from "The Times," Mr. Trump also faulted Mr. Sessions for his testimony during Senate confirmation hearings. When Sessions said he had not met with any Russians, even though he met at least twice with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Jeff Sessions, quoting from the president, Quote, Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers, the president said. He gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren`t.
Now, Jeff Sessions so far is not commenting in response to this denigration from the president tonight. The president saying he wished he hadn`t hired him. And that he thinks he gave, quote, bad answers to the Senate.
Again, this is the kind of thing you would expect to occasion a fairly quick resignation, like tonight, if you`re going from past experience in American history. But you know what? Anybody trying to explain this past year, based on past experience in American history has been shown to be a chump all year long so far. So, we will see what happens here. But we`re trying to jug will all these stories as they continue to break over the course of the evening.
Clearly, this is -- this is a big deal in terms of the pressure on the FBI, the pressure on the deputy attorney general, the pressure on the special counsel, and most pointedly, the pressure on Trump loyalist, early supporter, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
All right. We`re going to take a quick break. We`re going to be back with the former Department of Justice spokesman under Attorney General Eric Holder who actually wrote before tonight that something like this might happen. We`ll be talking with him.
We`ve got Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee here tonight.
And tonight, we`ve got the former top ethics official from the U.S. federal government here tonight. His last day on the job was yesterday. He is here for "The Interview" tonight.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, we`re covering this breaking news tonight from "The New York Times." The president making extensive comments to "The New York Times" criticizing in very aggressive terms his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, the special counsel Robert Mueller, threatening to fire Robert Mueller if Mueller looks at his family`s finances.
"The New York Times" separately reporting tonight that Deutsche Bank, which holds millions of dollars in Trump debt, is actually expecting to hand their financial information on Trump over to Robert Mueller. And Trump also criticizing the acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe.
I want to tell you, just in the last couple of minutes in the commercial break, "The New York Times" has released more verbatim transcripts from this discussion. And I want to read you one piece of this that I don`t totally understand but I want to speak with somebody about it, who worked at the Justice Department who may be able to explain it to us.
The quote from Trump is this: Nothing was changed other than Richard Nixon came along. And when Nixon came along, inaudible, was pretty brutal. And out of courtesy, the FBI started reporting to the Department of Justice. But there was nothing official, there was nothing from Congress, there was nothing anything.
But the FBI person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting. You know, which is interesting. And I think we`re going to have a great new FBI director.
The president appearing to suggest in this "New York Times" interview while threatening the attorney general, and deputy attorney general, the acting director of the FBI, and the special counsel investigating him, suggesting that his new FBI director might not report to any of those people and instead would just report directly to him.
Joining us now is Matthew Miller, former Department of Justice spokesman under Attorney General Eric Holder.
Mr. Miller, thank you for being with us tonight. I really appreciate you being here.
MATTHEW MILLER, FORMER DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE SPOKESMAN: Thank you.
MADDOW: So, first, let me just ask your top line reaction to what the president has said tonight about the entire senior leadership of the Justice Department, the FBI, and the special counsel`s investigation.
MILLER: You know, I think it`s a stunning attack not just on Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein, but really on the independence of the Justice Department. It`s an attack on the rule of law in the United States and whether the Justice Department conduct investigations independent from presidential interference. The president`s been very clear that he doesn`t believe in that, doesn`t think they should.
And I think it`s incumbent upon the attorney general now to make clear to the president that that`s not the way the system works. And if he doesn`t withdraw these attacks and if he doesn`t stop trying to undermine the rule of law, he`ll resign.
MADDOW: This last excerpt from the interview, which has just come out in the last couple of minutes, which I just read, the president saying that the FBI essentially shouldn`t report to the Department of Justice, and that the FBI director should report directly to the president. And then he goes on immediately thereafter to say, you know, which is interesting. I think we`re going to have a great new FBI director.
This suggests to me, at least in this written transcript that`s just been reported by "The New York Times," that the president is suggesting that the FBI and the Department of Justice be reorganized so that the FBI becomes an executive agency under him. Is that what it sounds like to you?
MILLER: It sounds -- it`s a really troubling thing to say. I mean, not surprisingly, he has the facts wrong. He has history wrong. The FBI has always been a part of the Justice Department since its inception. That didn`t change after Watergate.
What did change after Watergate because of the way the president was meddling in the investigations is the Justice Department promulgated new rules by which the Justice Department would not contact the president about ongoing investigations, and the president wouldn`t contact the Justice Department and interfere. And it seemed to be those rules that I suspect the president is really pushing back against, and really feels constrained by.
And, you know, it seems -- look, he wanted Jim Comey to operate as if he operated to him. He wanted Jim Comey to be loyal to him, and follow his whims. When he wasn`t, he fired him. And I think he`s making clear he wants his next FBI director to do what Jim Comey wouldn`t do.
MADDOW: If the attorney general and deputy attorney general do not respond to this interview tonight by resigning, which under normal terms would be the sort of thing that you might expect after the public denigration like this from the president, if they end up not resigning, and thereby sort of standing by the president`s comments here, is there anybody else in this chain of command, is there anybody else in government who could sort of speak truth to power the way you were describing it, in terms of standing up for the independence of the Justice Department?
MILLER: You know, Bob Mueller can, Andrew McCabe can. But he`s, of course, in an acting position.
It`s really incumbent on Sessions and Rosenstein to do that. They have to remember, they swore an oath not to the president, but to the Constitution. They`re there to serve the American public, not to serve Donald Trump. And they`re supposed to protect their institutions from independence.
This is -- you know, when he fired Jim Comey, that was a red line that he crossed. And they failed that test. They were supposed to stand up for the department`s independence then and push back against the president and they didn`t do it.
This is another big test for them and it`s another big test for the institution. Are they going to allow Donald Trump to trample all over the independence of the investigation, or of the Justice Department, or are they going to stand up and say this isn`t the way the system works in America? And if they don`t do it, there`s one left in the executive branch to do it. It will have to come from Congress.
MADDOW: Matt, I will just ask one last quick question before you go. You wrote recently, some days ago, that something like this might happen. Given your prescience that the president has just done this, do you know what happens next?
MILLER: I think we`re headed for a massive clash. It`s clear Donald Trump is not going to respect this investigation. I don`t think it`s a coincidence that he launched this attack after the investigation got close to his son.
We found out yesterday that Bob Mueller is looking at his son. He`s making clear now if they look at him personally, if they look at his finances personally, he`s going to respond. I don`t see how we get past this without him firing either Mueller or firing other people at the Justice Department and a massive, massive crisis.
MADDOW: Matthew Miller, former Justice Department spokesman, it`s very sobering. Thank you for being here tonight. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. So, there`s a lot of breaking news tonight. We learned some important news about the scope of the investigation, including a focus on the president`s finances involving Deutsche Bank. We have learned through "The New York Times" that the president is threatening to fire special counsel Bob Mueller over the investigation taking just that sort of turn.
We have learned the president is expressing lack of confidence and personal regret that Attorney General Jeff Sessions holds that job and levying criticism against the acting director of the FBI, the deputy attorney general as well. We`ve also got some news about who`s going to be testifying on these matters in Congress as soon as the next few days. So, a lot coming up.
Congressman Adam Schiff, top Democrat on Intelligence is going to be here shortly.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, tonight, "The New York Times" has just published an interview with the president of the United States, in which he has threatened the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and he has threatened the -- he`s threatened special counsel Robert Mueller, saying he might fire him. He`s also expressed grave criticism about his attorney general and deputy attorney general.
But he`s also made another kind of news that is of serious intelligence concern. When President Trump met with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office, remember that? You`ll remember that shortly thereafter, we learned that in that meeting, he had, A, bragged to those Russian officials that he just fired the FBI director to take the pressure off himself when it came to the Russia investigation, and B, we learned that he gave those Russian officials code word protected super-secret information about the fight against ISIS. And how one of our allies had managed to infiltrate and/or surveil ISIS in a way that nobody knew about, and he told the Russians.
It was information that was super sensitive, that would -- was perceived as potentially jeopardizing that very important surveillance and/or infiltration if anybody knew about it. Nobody in the U.S. government was supposed to tell anybody about it, particularly the Russians. The president spilled the beans in that meeting.
The reason we found out that he did that is because there was a note taker in that meeting. And when the president made those remarks to the Russians, somebody wrote it down and then when those notes were circulated inside the White House, or among senior administration officials, somebody was sufficiently alarmed that it became -- somebody was sufficiently alarmed that it became news.
I mean, A, leaked to the press, but B, presumably the fact that the president had told the Russians that, once it was known, like at the CIA, and at the NSA, and national security counsel, that could become a point of action, if a source need to be removed from the battlefield, if somebody needed to be protected, if the people whose intelligence the president had just given away needed to be warned about that, that could be set in motion, a sort of cleanup operation -- all because there was a note-taker there. Otherwise, how would we have known he gave that away.
Well, when the president met one-on-one with Vladimir Putin at the G20, we were told there was no note-taker at the first official formal conversation that he had with Vladimir Putin. But we know for sure there was no note taker there. And there was no U.S. official there at all, not even a translator, for the president`s second long conversation with Vladimir Putin, that the White House never acknowledged until it was reported in the press yesterday.
Well, tonight speaking to "The New York Times," the president has given a characterization of his conversation with Vladimir Putin that had never been previously disclosed by the White House until last night. He tells "The Times," quote, it was not a long conversation. It was, you know, could be 15 minutes, just talked about things. Actually, it was very interesting. We talked about adoption.
As everybody knows now, when the Russians talk about adoption, what they`re talking about is sanctions. The Russians retaliated on one -- against the United States for one particular kind of sanctions, by putting in an adoption ban. So when the Kremlin, or people associated with the Kremlin bring up adoption policy, they are talking about getting rid of sanctions on Russia.
Apparently, the president had that conversation face to face with Vladimir Putin at the G20, and we didn`t know about it until now. We don`t know anything about the character of the conversation other than what he said about it. If he gave them anything else that was super top-secret, nobody else in the U.S. government knows how to clean up after it now.
Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff, who is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Schiff, thank you for being with us tonight. I know there`s a lot going on.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It`s a pleasure to be with you, and I`m glad you introduced this segment with that comment because that really struck me as well, the fact that of all the things the president says they talked about, he should say adoptions. Of course, this is what his son said their meeting was about.
SCHIFF: And we now know the meeting was about anything but adoptions. It was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was about the Magnitsky Act and adoptions was really the subterfuge.
So, now, are we to believe the president when he says that this meeting which also wasn`t revealed voluntarily was also about adoptions? Maybe we all have it wrong about Vladimir Putin, maybe he`s a much more, you know, thoughtful guy than we give him credit, that he wakes up in the morning worrying about adoptions and orphans. But it seems a bit hard to believe that that was really the topic of conversation.
MADDOW: And if the president was discussing sanctions, which is, you know, as I was just saying sort of what the Russians mean when they do talk about adoptions, if they did really talk about adoptions, which means they were talking about sanctions, what`s the danger of him doing that, which he now admits to, without a U.S. translator, without a U.S. note taker, without any presumably any U.S. government planning for that conversation, and with no readout about what actually happens in that one-on-one?
SCHIFF: Well, this would be a bad practice with any president not to have others present to interpret what Mr. Putin says or to take notes on what our own president says. It`s all the more risky with this president, because he does talk off-script, because he doesn`t have the discipline to carry the message with someone who is quite a skillful negotiator and counterpart in Putin.
So, we don`t know what the president may have conceded in that conversation. We don`t know what the president may have revealed about what he would like to take place. We don`t know what he may have said in that meeting that contradicts of what was said in the earlier meeting. And that is obviously deeply concerning in terms of our national security.
We have gained no insights about the meeting with Putin. We in terms of the national security establishment of the United States. We have gained very little. I think Putin has gained great insights.
So, it is all the more concerning that it took place the way it did. And we had to learn about it the way we did.
MADDOW: Congressman, we have learned tonight that your counterpart committee in the Senate has scheduled testimony next week from Paul Manafort and from Donald Trump Jr. They`re scheduled to testify next Wednesday, although as far as I know, they haven`t confirmed that they`re going to appear. Judiciary Committee, excuse me.
We`re also told that Jared Kushner is going to be doing a behind closed doors interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday of next week. As for your committee in the House, there has been some scheduled testimony from a number of different people, Trump adviser JD Gordon, from former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice, from campaign adviser for the Trump campaign named Roger Stone, a number of pieces of scheduled testimony that have been delayed.
Looking from the outside, it sort of feels like things in the Senate are moving, and things in the House are stalled. As the senior Democrat on that committee, is it fair to say that your committee is stalled?
SCHIFF: No, not at all. In fact, we have been progressing with the interviews just about every week. And what we are trying to do is we`re trying to coordinate with Bob Mueller. We`re trying to coordinate with our Senate counterparts. We`re also trying to do our investigation in an orderly way, where the important -- the benefit of the investigation is foremost in the sense that we`re trying to get documents from witnesses before they come and testify so that we can ask the witnesses about that.
And when we haven`t received the documents in advance, we do sometimes postpone the witness interviews. We also are trying to take into consideration the equities that Bob Mueller has. And the order in which he may want witnesses to come before either his investigation or ours.
So, we`re doing our best to coordinate. I think, logically, an investigation tends to bring in the less significant witnesses first, the more significant witnesses later. But there -- as you can tell, a lot of competing equities here, including the equity of the public that has a great desire to know, a need to know.
And so, you know, I don`t think it`s accurate to say we`re stalled. In fact, we`re progressing, although we`re less public about what we`re doing certainly than what the Senate is doing.
MADDOW: If I was to ask you if Paul Manafort has been having conversations with your committee staff, or indeed members of your committee behind closed doors, you wouldn`t answer me, would you?
SCHIFF: You know, I can tell you that with respect to Mr. Manafort, Mr. Kushner, Don Jr., these are all people we`re going to want to come before our committee. Some of them we`ve already been in touch with their counsel, some of them we`re working with. You know, I don`t want to go beyond that. But those conversations are ongoing.
So, it is progressing. And, of course, we`re trying to coordinate as best we can with the Senate in terms of their timing as well as our own. It`s a bit of a juggling also with the Senate Judiciary Committee. But I think all are playing an important role here.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, thank you for your time tonight, sir. Really appreciate you being here with us.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
MADDOW: More to come tonight. We`ve got a lot more to come tonight. How are we going to squeeze it all in?
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, we have been talking tonight about the really astounding and consequential interview "The New York Times" that just published with the president. In this interview tonight, the president calls into question the tenure of the attorney general of the United States, and the deputy attorney general of the United States, and the acting FBI director, and the special counsel who is investigating him on matters related to Russia.
The president`s remarks tonight bring up all sorts of questions about the independence of parts of the government that by design have some level of independence so they can function properly and without interference from the executive branch.
Our next guest is someone who has just left the leadership of a high- profile independent agency inside the federal government. He says because he no longer believed that the tools he had for carrying out his mission worked. He was supposed to safeguard ethics in our federal government, as a national watch guard. Today is his first day outside of that job.
Joining us now for the interview is Walter Shaub. He finished his work yesterday as the head of the Office of Government Ethics.
Today, his official first day, official -- with his new job which is senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center.
Mr. Shaub, it`s a real honor to have you here. Thank you for being here.
WALTER SHAUB, FORMER OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS DIRECTOR: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: I have a lot of things I want to talk to you about. You`re here on a busy news night. I have to ask you first about the news of the evening. The president tonight in this interview is raising an ethics issue about the attorney general. Quoting from the president`s remarks tonight to "The New York Times," Attorney General Jeff Sessions should have never recused himself, meaning from the Trump-Russia investigation.
And if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.
Do you know why Jeff Sessions recused himself and is the president right in raising this as an issue of fairness to the president?
SHAUB: So, first of all, thanks for having me here.
SHAUB: That`s an absolutely outrageous statement for the president to have made.
Before I answer that question, I want to make clear, I have no information about any investigations that are or are not going on or what their scope are. But the Office of Government Ethics works very closely with agency ethics officials. We have 70 people at OGE, 4,500 agency ethics officials we coordinate throughout the entire executive branch.
DOJ has mentioned that Rod Rosenstein was getting advice from an agency ethics official at DOJ regarding this recusal. I in my office called DOJ and said, we don`t know what investigations are going on, we don`t need to know, we don`t want to know, but if there`s any chance that there`s an investigation going on that he is a member of the class of persons who could potentially be interviewed in connection with that investigation, who might be a target of that investigation, he must recuse.
MADDOW: Talking about Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
SHAUB: That`s right.
MADDOW: He must recuse himself.
SHAUB: So, I need to defend Attorney General Sessions here because he did the right things. We told DOJ if there`s any chance that he`s part of the class of persons being looked at in this investigation, he must recuse. And DOJ has an excellent ethics office and they did the right thing and took proactive measures to be sure he wouldn`t be involved.
This is what we do across the executive branch. This is how we`re the prevention mechanism.
So when I resign and when I`m telling the world that we`ve got a problem with our ethics program, OGE is the canary in the coal mine with this departure from ethical norms, and it starts with a little thing like the president not divesting his financial interests, which sets a tone from the top that goes cascading down through the executive branch. And you wind up in a place where you have a president criticizing a law enforcement official for doing the right thing and staying out of an investigation in which he may or may not be a target, but because there`s any potential at all, they`re going to err on the side of being cautious.
Now, again, I want to be clear. I have no idea what the scope of any investigation is, and I`m not interfering with any law enforcement activity because I don`t have information to share. But this is OGE`s role.
We talked to agency ethics officials about establishing prophylactic measures to prevent conflicts of interest, and it worked in this case.
MADDOW: And when Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded to that advice and issued a statement saying that he was recusing himself from matters related to the presidential campaign in 2016, was that the appropriate scope of recusal according to the advice that OGE gave him?
SHAUB: Well, and there I want to be careful because they`ve never been quite public about the exact scope of the recusal, and I don`t know the scope of the investigation. But I do know that he publicly announced that he recused, and that`s the important thing to do. And apparently, that`s the thing that`s concerning the president.
But the very idea that you would question a decision to recuse and then in the same breath I heard today that he was saying, well, Mueller`s investigation is full of conflicts of interest -- you can`t have it both ways. If conflicts of interest are bad, you recuse, and that`s a good thing.
MADDOW: When the president made those comments about conflicts of interest involving special counsel Mueller, he said essentially that his office was rife with conflicts according to "The New York Times`" characterization. Then he said that there are conflicts that the president knows about that he hasn`t publicly disclosed yet, but he`s going to.
Quote -- he`s talking about Mueller having applied for the FBI director job or having been considered, excuse me, for the FBI director job. In the president`s words, he was up here, and he wanted the job. After he was named special counsel, I said, what the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts. But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven`t said, but I will at some point.
SHAUB: Well, that sounds a lot to me like saying that the last director of the FBI should be concerned and hope that there are not tapes, which we later learned there were not tapes. What I can tell you for sure is that the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have outstanding ethics officials. They`re career officials who know what they`re doing. They`ve put their time in. They`re experts, and they take the time to consult with the Office of Government Ethics. So we know a lot about the capabilities of those ethics officers, and I can tell you I am very confident in saying that there are not conflicts of interest going unaddressed by these ethics offices.
MADDOW: So, you`re saying that in the case of Robert Mueller having been considered for the FBI job, that is not something that was flagged as a conflict in terms of him becoming special counsel in.
SHAUB: No and it`s not a conflict of interest.
MADDOW: How about with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein? Again, I don`t mean for you -- I don`t want to ask you to litigate all these things here.
But the president raises a concern about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, saying that -- he doesn`t say it directly, but the implication of what he`s saying is that if the president is being investigated for potentially obstructing justice, for firing James Comey in order to take the pressure off himself in the Russia investigation, Rod Rosenstein having written a memo to the president about Comey that precipitated in some tellings -- precipitated that firing, that involves him in that process to such a degree that Rosenstein should himself be recused from anything involving oversight of the special counsel, as long as the special counsel is looking at that Comey decision.
How do you view that or do you know if that`s been at all considered?
SHAUB: Now, that does not meet the definition of a conflict of interest in the executive branch. Nothing that you`ve said is a reason why Rosenstein should have to recuse from the work of his job.
Now, that said, as a career government official, for many years, I have grave concerns about the idea that somebody would write a memorandum designed to look like this is making an out of the blue recommendation to fire someone when the president turns around and says the decision was already made.
I cannot imagine what was going through the head of the law enforcement officer whose responsibility is to display a high level of candor and be direct. That kind of impression that writing that memorandum creates is very concerning to me as a career government official. That`s not the way people behave.
But it is not an ethics violation in the sense that there are any specific rules saying that if you`ve been involved in taking a decision to fire someone, you should not be involved in overseeing their replacement. There`s just nothing in place that would suggest that`s inappropriate.
MADDOW: Do you feel totally confident in your decision to leave office before you`d have to at the end of your term? You know that President Trump will appoint your successor.
SHAUB: I don`t know if he will. If he were to nominate somebody, I think he might have a lot of questions raised during that nomination hearing, the confirmation hearing about his own conflicts of interest. It will be interesting to see if he leaves someone acting in that position --
MADDOW: Oh, I see.
SHAUB: -- or whether he nominates somebody.
I will say one thing that I think people should be watching out for. Under the Vacancies Reform Act, there`s a mechanism for identifying the first assistant who is going to take over when the head of an agency leaves. That first assistant at OGE was designated months before the election. That`s Shelley Finlayson, our chief of staff.
In theory, career officials should be interchangeable. They`re honest, non-partisan and knowledgeable individuals. If the White House reaches down and plucks somebody else out of the office to put them in the acting role rather than the person it should default to, everyone should be asking, why would they do that? What advantage do they think they`re going to gain? Or do they think they will find an individual that will give them a better deal than Ms. Finlayson who is tough as nails and as experienced as they come?
MADDOW: Walter Shaub, who until yesterday was the head of the Office of Government Ethics, thank you. How soon can you come back? Very soon?
MADDOW: Good. Now, senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center. Thank you for your service.
SHAUB: Thank you.
MADDOW: Congratulations. Thanks.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Where does the time go?
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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