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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 7/24/2017 Sessions and Russian Official

Guests: Matt Katz, Ron Wyden

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 24, 2017 Guest: Matt Katz, Ron Wyden

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Which is why they`re trying to basically smuggle it in.

Evan McMullin and Jennifer Rubin, thanks for joining us tonight.

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.

HAYES: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back, Chris. We missed you last week.

HAYES: Did I miss anything?

MADDOW: No, nothing napped.

HAYES: Seemed pretty chill. Chill and pitch.

MADDOW: I napped through 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Time all through the week.

Did you do anything awesome and are you well-rested?

HAYES: I am well-rested, and had a great time with my family and my kids, who have acquired some Harry Potter wand they`re very, very happy with. So, successful vacation.

MADDOW: Very nice. Well, welcome back, my friend.

HAYES: Thank you.

MADDOW: Nice to have you back.

Thank at home for joining us this hour as well.

As Chris was just reporting last hour, we think we are just hours away from the Republicans trying again for another vote on another version of their legislation that will result in more than 20 million Americans who now have health insurance losing all of their health insurance coverage. This is why the Senate hasn`t gone on vacation. This is why protests to try to hold on to the Affordable Care Act have not been letting up around the country.

As recently as today and into tonight, senators apparently have no idea what they`re going to be asked to vote on tomorrow but they are going to be asked to vote tomorrow. So, really, all eyes on that tonight.

We`re going to be talking with a key senator tonight who is in the middle of the fight, one whose town halls have been looking like this since the health care fight started. So, that`s ahead tonight.

Here`s something else to keep an eye on that has really not been making headlines, but it should. I mentioned that the health care thing is the reason that the Senate is not going on their usual epic vacation that they typically take around this time of the year. That matters this year not just for senators` vacation schedules and whether they get to spend time with their families, and going to the beach and blah, blah, blah. It also doesn`t matter just for the not inconsiderable question of whether they`re going to use their extra time in Washington to try to take health insurance away from 20 million people.

There`s an additional reason their vacation schedule really matters this year. And that`s because the president today spent yet another day taking skin off of the hide of his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The president told "The New York Times" last week that he wishes he hadn`t hired Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general. He told them that Sessions should not have recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigations at the Justice Department. The president even suggested to reporters last week that Jeff Sessions might have lied to the Senate under oath about his own contacts with Russian officials.

And that matters not just because being attorney general is a big deal, not just because the president and his attorney general are thought to be so close so there`s some human drama here. This really matters for all of us in the country because of the gigantic scandal looming over this administration, because as we have been reporting, if the president somehow gets rid of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, the president would be in a position to replace him with somebody else who was not recused from overseeing the Russian investigations at the Justice Department and that Trump choice to replace Jeff Sessions could then be in a position to get rid of Bob Mueller, to fire or otherwise block the Trump-Russia investigation that`s being conducted by the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

So, whether or not Jeff Sessions stays is really important. And that factor is why it`s now way more important than it usually is to know when and if the Senate is going on vacation. The shortest, easiest most direct most unstoppable way that President Trump could get rid of Jeff Sessions in order to replace him with somebody else who could fire Bob Mueller.

The shortest most direct most unstoppable way for him to do that is for him to wait until the Senate is in recess and then fire Jeff Sessions and make a recess appointment of a new one. Make a recess appointment of a replacement attorney general and that would allow that person to serve as attorney general without Senate confirmation until, I think, 2019. Plenty of time to kill off the Bob Mueller investigation in any case.

Now, this top Republican in the state, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, he could stop something like that if he really wanted to, by technically never letting the Senate go into recess. He did that during the last administration to stop President Obama from making any recess appointments. We have no idea whether he would do the same thing here to stop President Trump from kyboshing the Mueller investigation through that kind of a maneuver.

But "The Washington Post" late tonight -- they`re reporting that the White House is actually having discussions about this prospect now. Quote, President Trump and his advisers are privately discussing the possibility of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and some confidants are floating prospects of who could take his place were he to resign or be fired.

Members of Trump`s circle, including White House officials have increasingly raised the question among themselves in recent days as the president has continued to vent his frustration with attorney general, replacing Sessions is seen by some associates as potentially being part of a strategy to fire special counsel Bob Mueller and end his investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election.

So, vacation is always interesting. But this is why we right now really are nationwide on vacation watch for the U.S. Senate, with a renewed intensity. The Senate going on recess really could be the opportunity that the president is looking for to push Jeff Sessions out, to bypass Senate confirmation and to get somebody in there to fire Bob Mueller. So, head`s up.

Speaking of Jeff Sessions, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein, has issued a public letter demanding that the attorney general come in and testify in the Senate to clear up whether or not he lied to them previously about his communications with Russian officials.

"Washington Post" reported on Friday night that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications from the Russian ambassador communicating back home to Moscow to his superiors. They intercepted communications that said that the Russian ambassador had been discussing the Trump campaign and U.S. policies toward Russia with Jeff Sessions when he spoke with him during the presidential campaign.

Sessions himself told the Senate in writing that that never happened. He told the Senate in writing, back in March, that he didn`t recall any discussions with any representative of the Russian government regarding the political campaign. Now, it`s possible the Russian ambassador was lying about his meetings with Jeff Sessions. It`s possible Jeff Sessions was lying about his meetings with the Russian ambassador. But at least a top Democrat on the committee that oversees the Justice Department would like to figure out who was lying because one of them was.

So far, the Republicans on the committee don`t seem as excited as the Democrats do at the possibility of having the attorney general come back and get sworn in again. We`ll see. More on them in just a second.

But today, of course, was the first day that a serving senior White House official spoke to the congressional committees that are investigating the Russian attack on our election last year and the possibility that the Trump campaign was in on it. White House senior adviser and presidential son-in- law Jared Kushner was named in May by "The Washington Post" as a person of interest in the special counsel investigation into the Trump-Russia affair.

After multiple bouts of him not disclosing his various meetings with Russian officials during the campaign and during transition, we`re not sure why today was different. But today, Jared Kushner decided that he would disclose a new one. He waited until today, until his interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee was scheduled today to disclose yet another meeting that he took with a Russian official that neither he nor the White House or the campaign had previously disclosed.

We`ll be talking with a senator on the Intelligence Committee about that to night, as well as Mr. Kushner`s confirmation today that he did talk with the Russian ambassador about trying to set up a classified means for him to communicate directly with the Russian government during the transition.

So, today, Jared Kushner met with the Senate Intelligence. Tomorrow, he meets with the House Intelligence Committee. Both of those meetings are behind closed doors.

For some reason, today`s was not under oath but tomorrow`s is under oath, which I don`t get at all. But, honestly, Congress can be a little hard to follow when it comes to closed hearings and classified material.

But there are two other things to watch for that are about to happen that I think are worth kind of sticking at the top of the show here tonight. Right before the election, you might remember that Slate.com made a splash with a long densely reported piece about unexplained extensive data transfers maybe?

At least extensive electronic communication between a computer server associated with the Trump campaign and one associated with Alfa Bank. Alfa Bank is a large Russian bank. It`s considered to be closely linked to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Alfa Bank maintains that these transfers between its server and the server connected to the Trump Organization, the Alfa Bank maintains that those electronic communications were totally innocuous.

The Trump campaign said at the time, quote: The Trump Organization has no communication or relationship with this entity or with any Russian entity. So, that both denied it, the Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization servers thing denied in terms of it being nefarious by both parties involved.

But that Alfa Bank thing has remained sort of a loose thread for people trying to get to the bottom of the connections or lack thereof between Russia and the Trump campaign while Russia was attacking our election campaign last year. Well, whether or not you ever cared about that before, tomorrow in the Senate, President Trump`s nominee to lead the criminal division of the Justice Department, he`s going to get his confirmation hearing.

Tonight, "The New York Times" reports that, hey, it turns out he worked for Alfa Bank. In fact, he supervised a review of those mysterious communications between the Alfa Bank server and the Trump Organization server. He supervised one of the reviews of those suspect communications that ultimately pushed back on the suggestion that there was anything weird at all in those data transfers or electronic communications between the Trump campaign and his client, this Russian bank.

So, that confirmation hearing will be tomorrow. I should mention that this isn`t just any nominee, right? Running the criminal division of the Justice Department is a really big hairy deal.

Among the people who once held that job is Robert Mueller, who is now the special counsel on the Trump-Russia investigation. Of course, the even more high profile past job that Robert Mueller is even better known for is having been the director of the FBI. And that is the other thing that has popped up today that you really should keep an eye on.

Last week, you might remember, if you watched the show last week, you might remember that we rousted NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss from his vacation to give us a historian`s perspective on the other, I think, legitimately shocking thing that the president said last week in the same interview where he started threatening and publicly regretting his choice of his attorney general. I say you might remember that moment from this show last week because Michael Beschloss` response when I asked him about the president`s comments, it was not the kind of thing I was expecting and it was not the kind of thing you typically hear from a historian.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: He said that the FBI director should report directly to him as president, that immediately thereafter he said, I think we`re going to have a very good new FBI director. He was citing what he described as historical example in terms of explaining why the FBI director should report directly to him. Was he correct in that?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No, he was not. I found his suggestion of the FBI director working directly for the president reporting to him, that is absolutely blood chilling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Blood chilling. Coming from Michael Beschloss, that`s the kind of thing that sticks with you.

What Michael Beschloss found blood chilling was this short argument from the president in his "New York Times" interview last week, I`ll quote you what he said. I have noted before that the president does not usually speak in a way that transcribes well. And I do not mean that as an insult. It is not a sin. I also speak in a way that transcribes well. I get it.

But even so with this verbatim transcript, you can clearly get his meaning here. Here it is, quote: when Nixon came along, inaudible, we don`t know what the next word was, when Nixon came along -- 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.

And then "The Times" reporter Maggie Haberman says Chris Wray and the president says he`s highly thought of by everybody.

Chris Wray, the president`s nominee to head up the FBI, he may be highly thought of by mostly everybody if not everybody, but if he is being nominated to run the FBI by a president who is arguing overtly that the director of the FBI works for him directly and reports to him directly, a president who is now arguing that the FBI should basically be the president`s agency and no longer seen as part of the Justice Department, that is kind of blood chilling.

I mean, did Christopher Wray accept this nomination from the president on those terms? When he accepted this nomination from the president, was it with the understanding that this is the way the president sees the FBI? Because the president is now saying publicly that as far as he`s concerned, the FBI reports direct to him. The FBI director personally reports direct to him.

Did Wray agree so that when he accepted the nomination? Surely, the Senate would want to know that before they voted on whether or not to confirm him, right?

Apparently not. The day after the president made those remark to "The New York Times," the Judiciary Committee in the Senate voted to approve the nomination of Chris Wray to lead the FBI. It was a vote of everybody to nobody. It was a unanimous vote to approve him in the committee. He still needs his full vote in the Senate and that is expected to come up quickly.

But now, WNYC, reporter Matt Katz of WYNC, who made a national name for himself on his reporting on the Chris Christie bridgegate scandal, now, Matt Katz of WNYC has new news about Christopher Wray and his last big gig before being nominated by President Trump to lead the FBI.

During the bridgegate scandal where the Christie administration was accused of shutting down the access to the busiest bridge in the country basically as a matter of political revenge, and where three appointees or staffers of Chris Christie pled guilty or were convicted. During that scandal, Governor Christie retained Christopher Wray to be his personal attorney, representing the governor in that scandal with the legal fees all billed to the citizens of New Jersey.

Well, through a public records request, WNYC has now found that there`s something a little weird about that agreement. Namely, it appears that the taxpayers of New Jersey started paying Christopher Wray to represent Chris Christie in the bridgegate scandal all the way back in 2014. But that fact was never publicly disclosed.

Well, at least it wasn`t publicly disclosed for a long time. They never filed the paperwork to make it official until Christopher Wray had been on the job doing the job for 11 months, almost a year billing the taxpayers for his work. All the while Chris Christie was gearing up for his presidential campaign without having to answer any pesky public questions about his legal fees being picked upped by the taxpayers of his state because nobody had any way of knowing that was happening for almost a year, which politically was great for Chris Christie at the time. It was not necessarily great for all of the taxpayers who were paying those millions of dollars in legal bills all of that time to Christopher Wray and his firm with no way to know they were doing it and therefore no way to question it.

WNYC is also reporting that Christopher Wray stayed on the public payroll in New Jersey. He and his firm kept working for Chris Christie on bridgegate even after the industrial was over, after the trial ended and Christie`s staffers were convicted and sentenced to prison. We`re not sure why Christopher Wray stayed on. We`re not sure why Chris Christie still needed private legal representation on the bridgegate matter at taxpayer expense at that point after the trial but he kept getting it and the taxpayers kept paying.

And then, not long thereafter, Chris Christie apparently recommended Christopher Wray to President Trump as a good choice to go run the FBI. He`s already passed through. His nomination has already passed through the committee. One vote left sometime very soon in the full Senate.

Joining us now is Matt Katz. He`s a reporter with WNYC who broke the story earlier today.

Matt, thanks for being here. I really appreciate it.

MATT KATZ, REPORTER, WNYC: You got it, Rachel. Thank you.

MADDOW: How is this supposed to have work?

KATZ: Yes.

MADDOW: And how did it actually work? How big is the distance between the two?

KATZ: Sure. Normally, you hire an attorney and government entities obviously hire attorneys all the time, and you have a contract. You have retention agreements and then you figure out how much you`ll be billing and you go ahead and the representation begins.

In some circumstances, if there`s some sort of emergency. If your legal representation is needed immediately, then it might take a couple of weeks between the time the lawyer starts working and the government signs a retention agreement with the attorney.

I spoke to as many lawyers as I know and as a reporter I know a lot of lawyers and nobody has ever heard of this lag time. It took 11 months before any sort of retention agreement was signed, and he is -- Chris Wray was billing the whole time. He didn`t officially send the bills into the state of New Jersey so they could be paid for by the treasury. But he was billing in fact from September 2014 until Christmas of 2014, him and his colleagues worked every single day, except for three days. They were doing a ton of work.

MADDOW: Through the weekends and everything.

KATZ: Through the weekends and everything. They were doing a ton of work for Chris Christie. We don`t know what that work was because Chris Christie was never charged.

We do know one thing -- the only thing we know that he did was hold on to Chris Christie`s cell phone. Chris Christie`s cell phone became a topic of interest in the bridgegate scenario because he had texted an aide during a key legislative hearing in which the whole scheme started to unravel. And they had a series of text messages that went back and forth during very important times of this hearing where new details were arising.

And that`s a cell phone, perhaps that cell phone is one that Chris Wray was holding on to Chris Christie -- well holding on to for Chris Christie.

MADDOW: And that was of investigated interest, right? Wasn`t that cell phone the subject of a subpoena?

KATZ: The defense, the former Christie aides who ended up getting indicted and convicted for this crime, they sought the cell phone and the judge ended up quashing that. That became an issue in the summer of 2016 right before the trial after Chris Christie`s presidential run flamed out. And that`s the first time the public ever knew the name Chris Wray. We had no idea Christopher Wray was representing the governor.

And while he was representing the governor on the public`s dime, if I had filed a public information request for Christopher Wray`s bills, nothing would have come back because there was no documentation. There was no paperwork.

MADDOW: Wait. So, when we heard about the Chris Christie`s lawyer had his cell phone thing in the summer of 2016 as you say, I remember that from reporting breaking, that was the first time that we knew that Christopher Wray was working for Chris Christie even though he had started doing that work in 2014?

KATZ: Correct. We knew of another attorney who is representing the governor`s office who billed in excess of $11 million to taxpayers.

MADDOW: Right. Randy Mastro and his firm, right?

KATZ: Right, and they wrote this investigative report that basically cleared the governor of wrongdoing. We thought that was the lawyer. We also knew that there was a chief counsel who`s also doing work on this case. And that`s -- we assumed that was it.

But there was another guy doing work almost every day and that was Christopher Wray and we had no idea.

MADDOW: And billing millions of dollars for it.

KATZ: Correct, including flights and meals and hotels.

MADDOW: Did -- Matt, last question -- did any of Christopher Wray`s work on bridgegate, any of these issues about disclosure, any of these potentially ethical issues about holding on to this cell phone, or the timing of when his work for Christie was disclosed, and the retention agreement and all this stuff, did any of it come up in his confirmation hearing to the FBI director?

KATZ: Bridgegate was not mentioned once. And it`s of interest because he was dealing with an important person and it was on the onus of the firm, I`m told, to go and sign that agreement. And if he yielded to Chris Christie who didn`t want that agreement be public --

MADDOW: Right, very publicly convenient for Christie that it hadn`t been signed knowing that was public record.

KATZ: For sure, and that makes it relevant, whether he will yield to another powerful chief executive like the president, when the time comes.

MADDOW: Matt Katz, reporter to WNYC, congratulations on this scope. I know that you`ve been on this beat for a long time, but nailing down these details of it has led to a really important revelation. Thanks for helping us understand it. Appreciate it.

KATZ: Thank you, Rachel. Appreciate it.

MADDOW: All right. A lot to get to this very busy Monday night. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Today for the first time, a sitting senior White House adviser spoke with congressional investigators who are looking into the Trump- Russia issue. Jared Kushner spoke to Senate Intelligence Committee investigators behind closed doors today, but he did make a public statement on camera and he released his prepared testimony to the committee in writing. And because of that we now know a bunch of new stuff that we didn`t know before.

For example, Jared Kushner has waited until today for some reason to disclose that there was yet another meeting between him and a Russian government official during the campaign that he had never previously disclosed and that the White House had never previously disclosed. It was a meeting last April at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on the sidelines of then candidate Trump giving a foreign policy speech. So, there`s that.

We also today got the third new different public explanation for why Jared Kushner met with a guy named Sergey Gorkov, the head of VEB, which is a Russian state-owned bank that has been sanctioned by the U.S. government. Initially, when that meeting came to light, VEB put out a statement explaining that they met with Jared Kushner during the presidential transition because he is the head of the Kushner companies. It is a very important real estate firm. So, of course, that`s why they wanted to meet with him.

The White House subsequently explained, no, no, no, that was not it. The White House statement was that the reason Jared Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov from the sanctioned bank was as part of his responsibilities as a transition official. He was doing diplomacy with a bank.

Now, today, we got a third explanation for why that meeting took place. Jared Kushner himself now says that he took the meeting, A, to be nice to the Russian ambassador, but, B, because he really did want to set up a direct line of communication with Vladimir Putin. And this guy said he was friendly with Vladimir Putin. I don`t know if that`s supposed to make us feel better or worse about that meeting.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, to his credit, he tends to be one of the pushier members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is the committee that hosted Jared Kushner today.

Senator Wyden, I can tell you right now, will not tell us what happened behind closed doors today with Jared Kushner. But Senator Wyden did make a public statement today saying that Jared Kushner`s statement, quote, raises far more questions than it answers. Why is he saying that?

We`ll find out, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Joining us now live for "The Interview" is Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon. He`s been a key Democratic voice on the health care fight that is coming to a head right now in the U.S. Senate and he sits on the Intelligence Committee. That committee`s investigators interviewed White House senior adviser Jared Kushner today.

Senator Wyden, really appreciate you being here tonight. Thanks for you time, sir.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me again.

MADDOW: So, after Jared Kushner put out his written statement that he was submitting to your committee today, you put out your own statement saying that what he had said, what he had told you raised more questions than answers. Can I just ask you what made you say that, what new questions you have?

WYDEN: Rachel, as you know, I have focused in this investigation on the follow the money issues. And he made some very careful, very lawyerly like comments. For example, he said he didn`t rely on Russian financing for his businesses. He didn`t say I have no business dealings with the Russians. He didn`t say I have never received Russian investments.

And the lawyering obviously was very clever but his responses were incomplete. And as far as I`m concerned, this is just the beginning of the questioning. We`ve got to have him in the open so that the American people can see him questioned by senators of both parties.

MADDOW: We have seen a counter argument or at least complaining from the White House and even from the president himself, basically saying that past business dealings, past financial transactions by the president or by members of his family, senior people on his campaign, that there`s no way that that could be related to the issue of colluding with the Russian attack, that going back that far, going into business interests that weren`t related to the campaign is irrelevant, should be seen as outside the bounds of the investigation.

How do you respond to that?

WYDEN: Well, first of all, we have the most recent meeting in June where we still have to talk to Donald Trump Jr. and the various parties. My own view is that was an attempt to collude. And if you look at his e-mails, if you look at his own admissions, clearly there is much explaining to do. And my own view is that the president has almost gone from saying there is no collusion to saying so what.

MADDOW: We`ve seen some -- I don`t want to call them unprecedented because it`s very hard for things to be unprecedented because we`re an old country and a lot of things have happened. But we`ve seen at least very unusual dynamics emerge within the administration. The president several times now publicly criticizing, calling out, expressing no confidence in his attorney general.

I have posited on this show. I think other people have started to realize, the White House, some of its advisers have started to admit that they may be gearing up to try to push attorney General Jeff Sessions out of his role with the idea being that if somebody else were in the role of attorney general, that person might be able to fire Robert Mueller, might be able to end the Russia investigation that way.

Are you worried about that prospect and do you feel like the Senate or the Congress broadly might have any recourse if that`s where the president is heading?

WYDEN: My own view is if the president fires Bob Mueller without cause, that is going to trigger a constitutional crisis and I think all options would have to be on the table. Second, with respect to Jeff Sessions, it just speaks volumes that the president would so personally attack someone who is such a loyal supporter.

MADDOW: When you say that all options would have to be on the table and that would be a constitutional crisis, what kind of escalation are you talking about? What else would be on the table in that circumstance that`s not there now?

WYDEN: I would rule nothing out, Rachel. As you know, the House has already begun a number of members to have discussions about impeachment.

MADDOW: Senator Wyden, I want to ask you about what`s going on with health care right now in Washington. Do you mind sticking with us just for a moment? We`ve got a little bit of breaking news about health care voting in the Senate and I`d love to get your response about it if you can stay.

WYDEN: I can.

MADDOW: Great. Senator Ron Wyden is back with us right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: These two guys have one of the toughest jobs in Washington tonight. They`re both named John -- John Cornyn and John Thune. They`re the number two and number three Republicans in the Senate. Their job right now as part of the leadership is to try to sell their Republican colleagues and theoretically the country on the Republican plan to kill the Affordable Care Act.

The catch is the vote is tomorrow. And as of tonight, they themselves do not know what`s in the bill they`re trying to sell. Not knowing what it is makes it harder to sell it. Will it be the House version of the bill, the one that takes away health insurance from 23 million Americans or will it be the Senate version which only takes away health insurance from 22 million, not 23 million?

Not knowing what the plan is does make it awkward to talk about it when you`re asked about it on the TV.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: As the number three Republican in the Senate, do you know what you`re going to be voting on next week? Is it repeal, or is it repeal and replace?

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: It`s voting to get on the bill, Chris. It`s voting to open the debate.

WALLACE: Is that going to be repeal or repeal and replace?

THUNE: I think, ultimately, that`s a judgment Senator McConnell will make at some point this week before the vote, depending on how these discussions go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Senator McConnell at some point will make that call. In the meantime, we are just going to vote, OK?

But it`s not just that they don`t know what`s in the bill. They don`t necessarily even know what they want to be in the bill. A CNN reporter today asked John Cornyn what leadership ultimately wants the bill to be in the end. His response was, quote, we`re not quite there yet.

Dude, vote is tomorrow. Not quite there yet now? How is everybody else supposed to know if they`re?

NBC has spoken to three top Republican potential holdouts on this bill tonight, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, all three told NBC some version of I don`t know what I`m supposed to be voting on tomorrow so I can`t tell you how I`ll vote. Now, in terms of the math, the Republicans lose those three votes or any three votes and they`re toast.

But we do have some breaking news to report tomorrow about that vote that`s expected tomorrow. Senator John McCain`s office just announced that Senator McCain will return to work in the Senate tomorrow. This is almost unbelievable. He just announced last week that he`s been diagnosed with brain cancer.

But Senator McCain expects to be back in the Senate in time for the vote on Obamacare repeal tomorrow. He`s expected to vote to open debate on the Republican plan which will be an act forward furtherance toward passing it.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon back with us.

Senator Wyden, thank you for staying with us.

First, let me get your reaction to this news about Senator McCain, your colleague in the Senate, who has had such health challenges recently. It seems like he`ll be back.

WYDEN: I`m glad my friend is feeling better.

Look, they are pulling out all of the stops and so are we. I`m so glad to be able to tell your viewers, this is urgent, urgent business. What Mitch McConnell wants to do in either of these two approaches is turn back the clock. He wants to go back to the days when health care was for the healthy and wealthy, when the insurance companies could discriminate against people who had preexisting conditions and deny coverage.

So, what I want to say tonight to your viewers is we need you tomorrow calling and texting and tweeting. We`ve been able to hold them off so far because we`ve had a grassroots juggernaut. But you cannot underestimate Mitch McConnell. We are going to need everybody pulling out all of the stops tomorrow.

MADDOW: What types of Republican senators do you think are susceptible to their constituents` pressure on this? Obviously, members of the leadership, some other Republicans are saying they`re going to vote yes tomorrow even without knowing what the bill is. So, some of them are in no matter what. Who do you think is susceptible?

WYDEN: First of all, I never heard of people talking about a sixth of the American economy, affecting hundreds of millions of people and having absolutely no information about it. People as of now are just in the dark.

The people that I would be watching -- first of all, there are a number of senators who understand that these Medicaid cuts would really be punitive. They hurt older people who need nursing home care, kids with special needs, disabled folks. I`d watch that group of senators who have going on the trouble explaining $700 billion plus in cuts in Medicaid.

Also, I think there are some conservatives who are going to be procedural concerns that in effect this bill isn`t quite mean enough for them. Those are the two blocks of Republican senators.

MADDOW: And, Senator, we have been -- we watched this through the spring in the House. We`ve been watching it through the summer in the Senate. And this effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its various iterations, it comes up, it gets smacked down, it comes up, it gets smacked down.

It happened a few times in the House and we thought it was over. Ultimately, the House was able to pass it. It`s now come up to the line and been knocked back a few times in the Senate.

Do you think that your Republican colleagues are just going to keep doing this again and again and again until they find a way to pass it, or at some point will this effort really be dead?

WYDEN: They are going to stay at it and we have to stay at it as well until it is dead. For example, the real agenda here, Rachel, is to provide hundreds of billions of tax cuts to the fortunate few. That`s what they want more than anything. That and rolling back the lifeline, the Medicaid safety net. These are two ideological trophies and as I say, they are in this fight as aggressively as they possibly could be.

MADDOW: Senator Ron Wyden, really appreciate your time, Senator. Thank you for being here.

WYDEN: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I don`t speak any language other than English, which I find very embarrassing. I went to school for a long time in a lot of different places. You`d think I would have been able to learn other languages. I learned nothing. I can barely speak English most days and I have nothing else to fall back on.

Every once in a while, though, I pick up a word here and there. Today, I learned a new word in Polish. I learned it in print at least. When I try to say it, I have trouble. I would like some audio help, please.

VOICE: Ogonek.

MADDOW: Ogonek. Can I hear it one more time?

VOICE: Ogonek.

MADDOW: Ogonek. It means tail in Polish.

It`s also an accent mark. See the little tail hanging off the end of the "A" there. Ogonek. That is the new Polish word that I learned today in order to understand one of the most interesting and honestly kind of inspiring stories in the world in today`s news, because check this out.

This was Poland over the weekend. A bunch of people with signs with tails hanging off the A`s, and those signs all say, free courts, free people, in Polish.

Thousands of people, tens of thousands of people. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets this weekend in hundreds of cities all across Poland, part of nationwide protests against a new law that was sitting on that country`s president`s desk, waiting for his signature. The bill would let the Polish president fire every single justice on their Supreme Court except for the ones that were hand-picked by his own justice minister.

Think about that. That would be like if -- when Donald Trump became president, one of the powers that he got as president was the ability to fire the entire slate of Supreme Court justices. And then, he could tell Jeff Sessions to have at it and just fill up the bench with all his personal picks.

And Poland isn`t the United States, and the United States is not Poland, but there are some democratic norms that are shared across democratic countries, and one of them is supposed to be an independent judiciary, a judiciary that is not entirely controlled by the political party in power.

This is a really radical change in that country, and it`s been in the works for a while. It was delayed, as least it was perceived to be delayed because Donald Trump came to town the weekend they had initially wanted to pass it. Usually an American president coming to visit would mean that you would sort of hold off, you`d hit pause in taking major leaps backward in terms of your democratic norms.

With this new president we`ve got, though, no need. Our new president visited Poland earlier this month while they`re in this anti-democratic, increasingly authoritarian crackdown, and he took the opportunity of being there to attack the free press in the United States. From that podium, he was standing at in Poland, standing next to the Polish president, who really was right in the middle of radically clamping down on the right to a free press in his country.

So, that was nice, right? A big boost of American encouragement for that country sledgehammering a cornerstone of democracy. America is with you. I think it`s all fake news too.

And so, then after Donald Trump left, they decided they would take the next big step, to squash their independent judiciary. The parliament sent that bill to the president this weekend for his signature or his veto. And inside the parameters of electoral politics in Poland, it should have been a done deal, and that country should have taken a giant leap backwards toward being much less democratic than it is now.

But the people did not let it happen. The people did not wait patiently for their president`s answer on that bill. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out demonstrating against that thing every day for over a week in anticipation of the president`s decision, saying if it passed, it would be the beginning of the end of democracy in Poland and in that part of Europe.

And the crowds have been loud. They have been persistent. They have been relentless in their numbers. Last night, they had a candlelight vigil.

The president was set to make his decision today. Everybody expected him to sign it, and then he didn`t.

This thing was like a freight train steaming down a straightaway on the tracks. There was nothing inside Polish politics that made it seem like this thing was going to stop.

The president controlling the presidency, his party controlling the parliament. They knew what they wanted to do. They`ve hit every other cornerstone of democracy that they can along the way to trying to dismantle it all.

And with those people in the streets, he didn`t sign it. He vetoed it. And the shock of that whole country reverberated around the world today.

For the record, there is one controversial bill that he didn`t veto, he signed into law. A different version that applies to the lower courts, letting his government strip away justices they don`t like and replace them in the lower courts.

But for now, at least the supreme court stays untouched in Poland thanks to this. Day after day after day all over the country, in staggering numbers, people fighting to preserve the independence of their highest court.

Pressure works. It always does, all over the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Chart imitates life.

OK. Check this out. This is people running for Congress. Blue for Democrats. Red for Republicans.

These are not incumbents. People who are running for a seat in Congress who don`t already have a seat in Congress.

And there`s actually a threshold you have to pass to get onto this chart. These are serious candidates. This shows people who have filed formal campaign papers with the FEC and people who have raised more than 5 grand, $5,000 by June 30th the year before whatever election they were going for. So, this is people who are in it, who are running a serious campaign from jump.

And sort of read it from right to left here. 2003, that`s June 30th, 2003, so that`s people running ahead of the 2004 elections. The next one is June 30th, 2005, so that`s people running for the 2006 elections. You get it.

You see there`s a big spike in 2009, where the number of Republican candidates jumps. That was ahead of the big Tea Party wave election for 2010, when Republicans took back the House, right? Remember they had that huge year in 2010.

That election began with an early outsized presence of Republican challengers, Republicans running for Congress. And it really did prove to be a case of chart imitates life, right? You look back at those numbers. In hindsight, you could see it coming, how huge that wear was going to be for the Republicans in 2010.

Well, now, we are the same distance out from the next election. We are a year and a half out from the midterm elections that are coming up, the 2018 elections.

Brookings has updated its chart. You want to see what it looks like now? You want to see how the count of House challengers is going for this next election? Put up this year.

Oh, 209 Democratic challengers have filed with the FEC and have at least $5,000 in fund-raising. Way more than trouble the previous high which was on the Republican side ahead of that epic nationwide change Tea Party wave election.

And we don`t know if that will result in anything in particular in the midterm elections. We don`t know if it means anything at all. But when you see a statistical jump like that, it`s probably going to mean something.

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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