The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 7/27/2017

Guests: Tim Weiner, Al Franken

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 27, 2017 Guest: Tim Weiner, Al Franken

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": You can Joy Reid weekends at 10:00 a.m. right here on MSNBC. Read Charlie Pierce of Esquire.com. You will not regret either of those. Thank you both.

That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

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

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Appreciate it.

HAYES: You bet.

MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

Senator Al Franken is going to be joining us live in just a minute tonight as the Senate keeps wrangling toward and away from and toward and away from the Republicans` effort to kill the Affordable Care Act. The current iteration of their plan is estimated -- the estimated cost of it in terms of the human cost said it would take all health insurance away from 16 million Americans who have insurance now. That is -- that remains the plan, such as it is on the table tonight.

There`s going to be a vote-a-rama on a gazillion amendments to the Republican. There may be a vote on the bill itself. So, we`ve got eyes on the Senate floor tonight as this thing gets fought out and as they through this strange procedure they`re going through to try to do this.

We`ve got Senator Al Franken here momentito to give us his take on what`s happening and why we may need to be a little bit flexible in terms of when we bring the senator on in terms of his voting schedule. But you can see, everybody is there right now in the Senate.

That said, thanks to the "New Yorker Magazine" and the interview they posted tonight with the White House communications director, tonight, we learned that the White House is staffed by some sweary staffers who don`t mind telling the press in great detail about the human drama inside the White House and the conflicts among White House staffers. Got it. I think I knew that before but now definitely got it.

I have to say, though, even though we`ve got a lot of clear evidence of what I just explained in this New Yorker piece tonight, this really is just the newest proof of that hypothesis that we`ve understood for quite a while now. I mean, yes, this is tonight from the White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci telling "The New Yorker" that the White House chief of staff is an F-ing paranoiac, saying that the White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is someone who performs an anatomically difficult but apparently not impossible act upon himself, which suggests metaphorically that he`s more interested in his own self than in serving the president. At least I think that`s what that means.

I`m not super familiar with all of the implications of the numerous genital metaphors that were employed here, so I might have gotten some of that wrong. I might not be the best equipped person to understand all the different ways he talked about all of the different things Steve Bannon is doing to himself.

So, tonight, it is the White House communications director proving that this is the way this White House operates. This is how the president -- the kind of folks that the president likes to surround himself with. This is the kind of environment that he likes to create around him, a working environment.

These comments tonight from the White House communications director, these are just the latest iteration of this, though, which I think is worth appreciating. I mean, before this stuff tonight from the communications director, it was the president`s then personal lawyer and top political adviser Michael Cohen. I remember that -- him threatening a reporter at "The Daily Beast" on the record. Remember that, quote, I`m going to mess up your life for as long as you`re on this freaking planet. You`ll never know how to get out from underneath it.

Quote: Rest assured, you will suffer the consequences, so you do whatever you want. You want to ruin your life at age 20, you do that. I`ll be happy to serve it right up to you.

Quote: I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we`re in the court house and I will take you for every penny that you still don`t have and I will come after your "Daily Beast" and everybody else that you possibly know, quote, so I`m warning you tread very f-ing, he didn`t say f- ing, very f-ing lightly because what I`m going to do to you is going to be f-ing disgusting. You understand me?

All right. That was on the record from the president`s then top political adviser and personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Very similar to what we heard tonight from Anthony Scaramucci in terms of his threats toward his fellow White House staffers. It does feel a little different when it`s coming from the White House rather than just from some dude associated with Donald Trump. But that`s our life now.

Two weeks ago tonight, the president`s then lead lawyer on the Russia case, who is apparently disappeared now, two weeks ago tonight, it was Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz who was sending this stuff to random strangers over e- mail. Remember this? F you. You are just f such a piece of -- I`m on you now. You`re F-ing with me. Let`s see who you are. Watch your back b --

That was two weeks ago tonight. That was the president`s lead lawyer on the Russia investigation. Although it should be noted he promptly disappeared after those outbursts. After he was disappeared as the president`s lead lawyer on Russia matters, he was replaced by this guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN DOWD, TRUMP`S ATTORNEY: Get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of here. That`s what I got to CNBC.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So, we got some new evidence tonight. But this is what the presidency is like now, right? We have this new evidence tonight from the White House communications director and all these things that he said to "The New Yorker". But we have known this about them for a while. We`ve known this is the way they operate. This is -- we`ve known this is the environment the president creates around himself.

In terms of what`s newly important about this tonight, though -- actually, do we have that from last night? Can we put up that list of fired? Yes, thank you. Fired or resigned senior officials. We put this up last night.

In terms of what`s important about tonight`s new evidence for our old hypothesis about the charming gentlemen this president likes to work with. I think what`s important about it, rather than the sort of spectacle value of it is the question of whether or not this sort of thing is going to add to this list. Is the work environment at the top of this White House disgusting enough to the people who are working in senior roles? Is the environment in this White House such that it`s going to result in yet more senior officials leaving the administration?

Obviously, after what the White House communications director said about him tonight, there are clear and present questions about whether the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus might be the next to go. Those outbursts were followed by blind quotes from people associated with the White House saying that Reince Priebus is out. He`s on his way out. He`s cooked.

OK. Maybe. We`ll see.

But while the White House is clearly enjoying that speculation about the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, I think it`s worth watching another couple of jobs as well. Today, you might have seen the Boy Scouts of America issued a public apology for the president`s behavior earlier this week at the Boy Scout jamboree, I can`t even believe I have to say this. It is comically unthinkable that the president of the United States would behave so inappropriately at a speech before the Boy Scouts, that the Boy Scouts would have to apologize and reconsider their age old tradition of inviting the president to address the jamboree.

But, again, that happened. This is our life now. You know, one cabinet official, though, who we haven`t heard much from since then is the very recent president of the Boy Scouts of America. Their past national president is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

And while I think there are a lot of reasons why Rex Tillerson is in the job of secretary of state, it`s also not impossible that the culture and environment of this White House, including the behavior of this president himself, may be rising to levels that Rex Tillerson finds objectionable on a personal level. If Secretary Tillerson does surface anytime soon, he will at least be expected to put that possibility to rest if it`s not true.

Also, keep an eye on another cornerstone of the cabinet, James Mattis, the secretary of defense. The president this week waited until James Mattis was on vacation until he announced -- for him to announce this major controversial disruptive policy change for the military. The president wanting to suddenly ban transgender troops from serving even though thousands of transgender troops are serving on active duty right now. Defense Secretary James Mattis has been silent on the president`s announcement of that policy change since the president said it, even as one by one, the service chiefs have started to announce that basically, they`re not going along, not until at least they get further direction.

So, yes, it is worth noticing I think that the White House seems to be in meltdown mode in terms of its senior staff. At least they appear to be in tantrum mode. I think we shouldn`t necessarily see that as surprising given what he knew before tonight about the kind of charming culture Mr. Trump creates around himself and his behavioral expectations for the people who work around him. I do think it`s worth keeping this long list in mind though, keeping eyes open for more high profile resignations or firings as the White House and the upper levels of the administration really continue to tremble and the in-fighting is put on display for everybody`s pleasure.

Swearing insults aside, though, here`s what I`m most focused on tonight. Do you remember that when James Comey testified in the Senate about the president firing him and the president pressuring him to stop the Russia investigation, remember the president, he said, pressured him to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation that was looming over the Trump presidency? When James Comey testified about that, he testified that he contemporaneously shared that information, he described his interactions with the president and the president`s words to him with senior people at the FBI.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: And I discussed the lifting of the cloud and the request with the senior leadership team who in -- typically, and I think in all of these circumstances was the deputy director, my chief of staff, the general counsel, the deputy director`s chief counsel and I think in a number of circumstances, the number three in the FBI, and a few of the conversations included the head of the national security branch. So, that group of us that lead the FBI when it comes to national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That group of us that lead the FBI when it comes to national security, that`s the group of people, the group of senior officials he clued in contemporaneously to what the president was doing leading up to firing him after pressuring him to stop the Russia investigation. That list of people he just gave not by name but by job title, that`s an important list of people, right, because if the president is potentially going to be on the hook in a criminal sense or obstruction of justice or for anything else improper about his pressuring the Russia investigation, or interfering with the FBI, that list, those people are going to be important witnesses as to the president`s behavior.

And so, if the White House is at all worried about that line of inquiry against the president, they`ve got to be worried about this list of senior FBI officials.

Well, look what`s happened so far to that list. The FBI director, James Comey, fired. Not just fired but smeared and disparaged and insulted by the White House, by the president, by the president`s lawyers, by conservative media, by Republicans in Congress.

Also, the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, not fired but the president now increasingly campaigning against him by name, deriding him by name, accusing him of corruption saying that McCabe never should have been hired as the acting FBI director. That attack on Andrew McCabe now being joined by conservative media, by Republicans in Congress.

And now, tonight, a conservative news source, one that`s own by Sinclair Broadcasting, which is emerging as kind of a successor to "Breitbart News" as the main pro-Trump media outlet on the right, they are reporting as of tonight that a third person on this list, the FBI general counsel, another one of these senior officials on this very short list, this right wing media outlet, "Circa" is reporting tonight that, quote, FBI General Counsel James A. Baker is purportedly under a Department of Justice criminal investigation, saying that he leaked national security information.

Now, we have no way of knowing if that reporting is true. The FBI wouldn`t comment to us about it, the DOJ wouldn`t comment to us about it. Our efforts to do our own reporting about this were not met with any confirmation one way or the other. It is possible that the front page of this pro-Trump conservative media outlet looking like this tonight -- exclusive: top FBI lawyer allegedly under investigation for leaking classified information, and a picture of him and everything. It`s possible that the front page of "Circa" looking like this tonight is just a brush back, it`s just designed to make the FBI general counsel think that maybe he potentially is under criminal investigation, or it`s possible that this Trump connected news outlet is right, and they`ve got a source in Jeff Sessions Justice Department who told them about this criminal investigation.

And when Jeff Sessions said in the last couple of days that he was able to make a announcement soon about leaks to the media, maybe what he`s going to announce is that he expecting the FBI general counsel is a leaker, just like Comey is a leaker.

But either way, right, whether it`s just a pro-Trump conservative media threat or whether it`s a true report of a real criminal investigation launched by Sessions in the Justice Department, this means that of the six potential witnesses against the president in terms of his firing of the FBI director and what that FBI director says with the president`s totally out of bounds request to shut down the Russia investigation before that firing, of the six men on that witness list, three of them are on the barrel. The Director Comey fired, the acting director McCabe smeared and disparaged daily by the president. Now, the top lawyer at the FBI, Baker, at least threatened if not under investigation by Sessions at the Justice Department.

If the FBI investigation into the president, now led by the special counsel, if that is the biggest threat to this presidency, then not just the special counsel but the FBI must at least be discredited, disparaged, taken apart or somehow scrambled by this White House. And it appears that`s what they`re working on now. The president tipped his hand about this last week when he told "The New York Times" that as far as he understands it, the FBI should report directly to him.

The FBI director personally should report only personally to him, the president. Immediately after saying that, the president immediately enthused about how excited he is about this new FBI director he`s nominated, apparently with that understanding of how the FBI director will henceforth be employed.

That is a huge, hard core thing for the president to be proposing, because the FBI is part of the Department of Justice and is kept independent of the presidency and the White House for a reason, are they really going to undo that? Are they really going to put the FBI under the president, reporting only to him? The president says that`s what he`s going to do and he says he`s excited about his new FBI director.

Unless and until the president makes that kind of a radical change, which he now says he`s going to make, unless and until that happens, the FBI still reports to the Justice Department, to the attorney general at the Justice Department. Of course, this attorney general is recused from his investigations related to the presidential campaign, including the Russia investigation.

Attorney General Sessions has been the subject of days and days of public abuse from the president who started criticizing him in that "New York Times" interview for having recused himself from the Russia matter. But the president hasn`t stopped criticizing him about that since. If the president does find a way to replace Jeff Sessions or if Jeff Sessions somehow figures out a way to unrecuse himself from the Russia investigation, since apparently that`s the president`s beef -- well, it`s interesting. What could happen then?

Charlie Savage of "The New York Times" lays out what an unrecused attorney general could do to shut down Mueller and the FBI`s investigation. Quote: An attorney general who is not recused from the Trump-Russia investigation could fire Mr. Mueller either by declaring that Mr. Mueller has overstepped in some way or by changing Justice Department regulations to eliminate the rule protecting special counsels. And then once he`s gotten rid of the rules, he can fire him thereafter for any reason he wants to.

Or an unrecused attorney general could declare that, you know what? The regular Justice Department can handle this investigation after all. We don`t need a special counsel. An unrecused attorney general could disband Bob Mueller`s staff or direct the investigators to swiftly wrap up their work, get this done, you`re done, and/or he could tell them to narrowly interpret their jurisdiction by, say, calling it off-limits to investigate whether the president firing James Comey might have been an obstruction of justice.

If any of that is going to happen, the FBI and the FBI`s investigation of the Trump campaign and Russia needs to be discredited as much as possible. And so, watch those forms of pressure. We saw a number of those forms of pressure emerge today. We`re watching this short list of high ranking FBI officials who apparently were able to corroborate James Comey`s testimony, who could potentially be witnesses here in an obstruction of justice probe against the president. We`re watching already as politically they`re getting picked off.

And we don`t know where this thing would publicly berating the attorney general`s recusal from the Russia investigating is going. And now, today, in the Senate, Senator Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, they`ve started a new -- they`ve opened up a new wing of this as well. Today, Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Grassley started a counterattack against the Russia investigation, claiming that the FBI`s whole Trump-Russia investigation is suspect because it stems from the Christopher Steele dossier which "BuzzFeed" published in January.

They started claiming today in this Senate hearing that that dossier is somehow a Russian plot. They have a new counter argument that explains what is going on. There isn`t a real Russian plot to help Donald Trump in the election. The Russians are faking that there was a Russian plot and they`re out to hurt Donald -- it`s a little nutty.

But that was the subject of a congressional hearing today in the United States Senate. And conservative media is jumping on it now. And the FOX News Channel is jumping on it now. And the Republican Party blasted out talking points about it now.

It`s on. They have come up with their counter-narrative here. And all of these different things that they`re doing are all designed to discredit the FBI and the Trump-Russia investigation, going after senior FBI officials, calling the acting director of the FBI corrupt, firing the director of the FBI, insisting that the FBI must report directly to the president.

Raising the prospect that this attorney general was wrong to recuse himself of an FBI investigation into a campaign he was involved in. Pressuring him to the point where nobody would be surprised if he tried to get rid of that recusal. And now launching this counter narrative that the whole FBI investigation is fruit of a poisoned tree, that the FBI investigation is itself a Russian plot.

All of these different attacks all happening simultaneously, all attacking and trying to undermine and discredit the Federal Bureau of Investigation while they investigate this president. What is if FBI going to do about that? I have just the guy to ask. He`s here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: This keeps happening. It`s starting to make me feel that somebody is spying on the inside of my brain. Just because I`m paranoid doesn`t mean it`s not happening.

I told you a moment ago that the new counter narrative is taking shape on the right to try to discredit the FBI from a number of different angles, going after senior FBI officials, going after the FBI Trump-Russia investigation in general.

Right on cue, we now have this new from 20 House Republicans. They`re calling for a new special counsel, a second special counsel in addition to Bob Mueller because they believe Bob Mueller isn`t doing the real job that needs to be done and they now are demanding a new special counsel be appointed to investigate Hillary Clinton and James Comey, the FBI director, and President Obama`s Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Lock her up. Lock her up. Lock her up.

House Republicans sent this letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy General Rod Rosenstein tonight. It says, quote, while we presume that the FBI`s investigation into Russian influence has been subsumed into special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation, we are not confident that other matters related to the 2016 election and aftermath are similarly under investigation by special counsel Mueller, including actions taken by previously public figures like A.G. Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and former Secretary of State -- lock her up, lock her up -- Hilary Clinton.

And then they list 14 specific items they want investigated related to those individuals with this new special counsel who they demand to be appointed by the Sessions` Justice Department. That letter tonight signed by 20 Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. The reason you haven`t heard anything about that House Judiciary Committee recently is that committee has shown zero inclination to look into anything having to do with the Russian attack, let alone the Trump campaign`s connections with Russia, let alone obstruction of justice questions, which are being investigated by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But in the House, those guys have not yet cared.

Joining us now is Tim Weiner. He`s a historian of both the FBI and the CIA. He`s the author most recently of "One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon". Before that, he wrote "Enemies: A History of The FBI", which makes him a very good person to talk to tonight. Tim, thank you for being here.

TIM WEINER, AUTHOR, "ENEMIES: A HISTORY OF THE FBI": Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW: I feel like I`m observing the FBI facing basically a campaign of discrediting at a bunch of different levels, senior serving FBI officials, the FBI director having been fired, this call for the second special counsel I`d say would be part of that.

Let me just ask, looking at that same data, do you -- do you see it that way?

WEINER: The FBI can take care of itself. The FBI is conducting a major counter intelligence and counter espionage investigation into what the Russians did during the last election. More importantly for the fate of the Trump administration, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is conducting a broad-based criminal investigation into the conduct of the president and his team.

Nothing can stop Bobby Mueller, unless the president wants to create a situation that would be somewhere between the Saturday Night Massacre and the Reichstag fire.

MADDOW: You raise that knowing how inflammatory it is to hear it because I can see it in your eyes when you say it.

WEINER: We`re talking about a constitutional crisis that he could provoke with two or three tweets.

MADDOW: If the president does take steps to try to shut down the investigation, and it does not seem farfetched to me. It does seem farfetched to me in history, it doesn`t seem farfetched to me in terms of his history from having asked so many different officials to try to shut down that investigation, having fired James Comey when Comey refused to do that, having gone after his own attorney general, having gone after Robert Mueller, talking to people in his administration into his own lawyers and trying to impugn the credibility of Mueller. I`m not sure they`ve figured out how to do that, but it seems like they are clearly aiming at that.

If the president tries to do it, why do you believe that the Mueller investigation itself can`t be fired?

WEINER: Under the law, only the person who appointed him, the number two guy at Justice, Rod Rosenstein, can dismiss him, and then only if he commits some impropriety. Bobby Mueller doesn`t do improprieties. Bobby Mueller does investigations. He`s one of the best and most respected legal minds in this country and he loves investigations.

In order to get rid of him, the president of the United States has to get rid of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general, somehow install two useful idiots in their place and get those people to somehow do his will and fire Bobby Mueller.

MADDOW: At which point, what happens to his investigation?

WEINER: The FBI takes it over. There are so many ways in which to block this from happening.

In the Senate, in the courts, that the president would essentially have to say the rules and the laws that have governed American democracy since the 18th century are over. I`m the king. I get to say what happens. I am the law. And Bobby Mueller isn`t.

MADDOW: In terms of what the president described as his understanding of the FBI. I feel like one of the most underreported -- not underreported, sort of -- it hasn`t received enough focus. The president speaks in inflammatory ways. He picks fights that get news coverage. And I think that we all tend to follow that.

I feel like the thing that he said about his understanding of how the FBI works has been underplayed in terms of the amount of attention that we have given it. He expressed overtly to "The New York Times" that he believes the FBI director is personally accountable to him, should answer to him and in the next breath, there were ellipses in that excerpt from the transcript, he started praising his new nominee to be FBI director.

What was your reaction to that?

WEINER: He`s mistaken. He does not understand the role of the FBI.

When he went to Jim Comey and said, I want a loyalty oath from you, I want you to pledge fealty to me, OK? I want us to have a patronage relationship and I want you to drop the Russia investigation and leave Mike Flynn alone. Comey was horrified because the rule of law in that conversation was being broken like a dry twig.

The president does not understand what the rule of law is. The president in his previous existence as a businessman, growing up here in New York, doing real estate deals consistently flouted the law and now, he`s under the mistaken impression that he`s above it and the FBI is there to do his bidding.

Bobby Mueller is independent. He`s a special counsel and under the law, he can work his will without the president`s interference. The president goes after him -- that`s a second obstruction of justice. Firing Jim Comey is one, messing with Bobby Mueller is two.

MADDOW: Tim Weiner is the author of "Enemies: A History of the FBI", gee, your title is getting better all of the time. It`s getting better with age.

Tim, thank you very much for being here. I really appreciate your time.

WEINER: Anytime, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks, Appreciate it.

All right. Much more to come here tonight. Senator Al Franken is going to join us live as the Senate continues whatever it is they are trying do on health care tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Cory Gardner has been a U.S. senator a little over two years. His constituents have not seen much of him in that time. Senator Gardner has not done a town hall with his constituents in 486 day, seven hours and 20 minutes, not that they`re counting or anything.

So, his constituents dragged this cardboard cutout of him all -- see, he`s flat. They drag him all over the state and they let random Coloradoans vent their frustrations to the prop version of their senator since their life size version will not come home and talk to him. Cardboard Cory they call him. He`s been in three different Colorado cities just today as his constituents came out to tell their two-dimensional stand-in senator to please vote no on killing the Affordable Care Act.

In Metairie, Louisiana, today, the heat index was 110 degrees. But constituents of Senator Bill Cassidy stood outside his offices in the blistering heat to protest the health care bill. Their umbrellas were dual use, keep the sun off them but also went with the theme of their demonstrations, which was keep us covered.

In deep red Alabama, there was a silent protest outside Senator Luther Strange and Senator Shelby`s offices today. They put tape over their mouths and said no voice.

At least some version of the Republican bill to kill the Affordable Care Act got scored by the CBO last night. It said 16 million who have health insurance now will lose all health insurance if the Republican bill passes. Tonight, four Republican senators said they would torpedo the Republican bill if their demands weren`t met.

Their demands are fascinating though. They want a promise from the House before the Senate votes tonight that the bill they`re voting on in the Senate won`t ever become law. But the House and the Senate will make changes to it later and that this thing that they`re voting on, this won`t ever be real. We don`t know where it`s coming down to in the end.

Speaker Paul Ryan did release a statement tonight saying he`s at least open to making changes after the vote if it passes the Senate tonight. Senator McCain says, no, no, no, he wants a commitment to that. He says the statement from Paul Ryan isn`t sufficient for that.

Republican senators are supposed to start the process of tacking on its own bill they`ve started, have started this process of tacking on a slew of amendment to this bill. Are they start -- control room, are they starting? Are they gearing up? OK.

They`re gearing up to start tacking on a gazillion amendments to this Frankenstein bill. Once this gets started, you see what time it is now and the fact that they`re milling around there, this thing is expected to go on all night, potentially literally all night until tomorrow morning. One photographer today caught this fold up bed, this cot being truck into the Capitol earlier today in case any senator needs to take a nap between votes.

Before the night is over, we are told to expect a vote of some kind on Mitch McConnell`s mystery meat health care bill. We at this hour really have no idea what is in the bill and we think senators don`t either. We also don`t know if he`s going to have the votes when it comes down to it. This is going to be a very interesting night, really anything can happen between now and then both in terms of the substance and in terms of the politics.

The only thing I can tell you for sure is it`s going to be a long night and Senator Al Franken joins us live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: There are protesters outside the U.S. Capitol tonight who we just a second ago had a live shot of and then the live shot disappeared. We`ll try to get that back up.

There are protesters outside the U.S. Capitol tonight, who are there trying to persuade the Senate to not vote for the Republican plan to kill Obamacare. I will tell you -- there we go.

It is hard to follow exactly what the Republicans are doing tonight inside the Senate to try to get their repeal bill passed. It`s also very hard to follow, the chances, the prospects that these efforts on their part might succeed.

But as we watch these protests, as the we watch the Senate floor, joining us now to help us try to understand the plan here and what may happen tonight is Senator Al Franken of Minnesota. He`s a leading Democratic voice against the Republican plan.

Senator Franken, it`s really nice to have you here tonight. Thanks for making time.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: It`s great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Where do things stand tonight and what should we understand about what`s going to happen over the course of the evening in.

We don`t know. Democrats don`t know. I don`t know if Mitch McConnell knows. We don`t know if they`re going to present their bill.

We have no bill that we`ve seen yet, but we expect there will be what`s called the skinny bill that has preliminary score from the CBO that 16 million fewer American wills be covered, that the cost of coverage would go up 20 percent above what the current law is.

Every plan that the Republicans have come up with have millions and millions and millions of Americans not covered, losing coverage, and costs more. This is exactly the opposite of what Donald Trump promised during the campaign, what Republicans promised they would do.

This is why the American people hate all their plans. I think 17 percent approval rating on the latest iteration of the Senate bill, just everything they said they were going to do they haven`t done. Every version they`ve come up with is terrible. And we -- we`re here to defeat it.

MADDOW: Senator, as you just said, there is no bill. The fact that we don`t actually have the substance of this thing, one of the consequences for that is that we don`t know under Senate rules exactly how many votes would be required to pass it, whether they would need 50 votes to pass it or 60 votes to pass it.

Is it clear to you that they`ve figured out some combination of things to introduce that would give them a 50 vote threshold which they might conceivably meet?

FRANKEN: I think they may be running elements past the parliamentarian. I think it`d be silly and stupid if they haven`t been doing that. So, I think what they will offer is something that they believe that they can pass with 50 votes and then Pence, Vice President Pence casting the tie- breaking vote.

MADDOW: And in terms of the Republican senators, obviously that means that they can do this without -- they don`t need Democratic votes at all. That`s been their strategy from the beginning.

FRANKEN: Right, they can afford to lose two.

MADDOW: They can afford to lose two and we have heard different types of objections from different Republican senators tonight, most of which seem to be about process and not necessarily about what they want to be in the bill.

Is it your understanding that if they`ve got a 50-vote threshold, that there height be a question as to whether or not they can get enough of their members on board?

FRANKEN: Oh, absolutely. I don`t think he has 50 votes. I think if he had 50 votes, he would have presented this bill.

MADDOW: What do you think has been determinative in terms of the difficulty the Republicans have had here? On paper since they only need their own members, we would have expected them to be able to pass this or some other version of this a long time ago. They have a hard time doing that in the House. They have a hard time doing that in the Senate.

Obviously, you`re very much against the bill. We`ve been covering the protests outside the capitol tonight and around the country against this thing. Do you think the protest movement about this issue has slowed them down?

FRANKEN: Yes. I think the fact that Americans hate this bill, I`m co- chair of the Rural Health Caucus. I`ve been all around rural Minnesota. A lot of Trump voters hate this.

I mean, obviously, if you have 17 percent approval for this, Trump`s approval ratings are in the mid to high 30s. That means most of Trump supporters hate this bill because they know it means that they will -- may very well lose their coverage. And to keep their coverage it will cost them a lot more money.

This is the exact opposite of what they were promised. They hate this. And that`s why they`re having trouble getting 50 bills -- 50 votes.

MADDOW: Senator Al Franken of Minnesota -- I know it`s going to be a long night tonight, sir. Thank your for making time to talk to us. I appreciate it.

FRANKEN: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: This year, only two states are holding elections for governor. One is Virginia where Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe is being term- limited out. The other one is New Jersey. Who`s the governor of New Jersey? Oh, yes. Two-term Republican Governor Chris Christie finishing his second and final term in office, finishing out with approval ratings so low, they look like shoe sizes, not poll results.

There have been a lot of bad headlines for Chris Christie in his second term governor, but the bad news that started all the rest of the bad news was Bridgegate, right?. This is when he was running for election. His campaign and administration tried to pressure the Democratic mayor of one New Jersey town into endorsing Chris Christie`s re-election. The mayor said no. Christie administration struck back.

That mayor`s town had an access lane, a traffic lane that fed cars from that town onto the George Washington Bridge, which is the busiest bridge in the world. The Christie administration shut that lane down to punish that town and its mayor for not endorsing Christie. They deliberately bricked traffic for days in order to punish that town.

And, you know, it`s not like anybody has a constitutional right to an access lane onto the George Washington Bridge, but public officials closing down that traffic lane, that public accommodation as a form of political revenge and then lying about it, trying to cover it up, that is an abuse of power. That`s corruption.

And sure enough, the Department of Justice decided those were grounds for federal charges. The bridgegate scandal ended up with three of Governor Christie`s appointees or staffers pleading guilty or getting convicted on federal corruption charges.

One of the people whose name came up hundreds of times at the bridgegate trials, a person who was never actually charged with anything but who was fired by the governor for his role in the scandal, was Christie`s campaign director, a man named Bill Stepien. Bill Stepien did avoid bridgegate charges.

But you know what became of him two months after the bridgegate trials? White House. White House, baby.

As Andrew Bernstein, bridgegate reporter from WNYC reminded everybody today, after the bridgegate trials, bridgegate figure Bill Stepien became the White House national political director. The person in the White House who has been designated as the national political director is the guy who Chris Christie fired for his behavior during the bridgegate scandal.

I was reminded of this turn of events all over again today when news broke in Alaska`s biggest newspaper, "The Alaska Dispatch News" this morning. Quote, Trump administration threatens retribution against Alaska over Murkowski health votes. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, she`s been one of the holdouts from the Republican Party on the health care bill. She and Senator Susan Collins of Maine haven`t joined the rest of their party in trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, at least the way the Republicans want to.

Now in response, the Trump administration is threatening Alaska. Quote: Early Wednesday, Trump took to Twitter to express displeasure with Lisa Murkowski`s vote. By that afternoon, each of Alaska`s two Republican senators had received a phone call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, letting them know that that vote from Lisa Murkowski had put Alaska`s future with the administration in jeopardy.

The president had his cabinet secretary call Alaska senators, specifically in response to Murkowski`s health care vote, to tell them that stuff they`re working on for Alaskans is now on the line because of her vote.

The "ADN" listed them out: nominating Alaskans to posts at the Department of Interior, a road that the Alaskans want built through some federal land, a whole bunch of other regulatory issues that the senators have prioritized, that they need the administration`s help on for the good of Alaska, the administration is basically saying, nice state you got here. Shame if something happened to it.

I mean this is -- this is bridgegate north, right? This isn`t just something that Governor Christie`s staff got dinged for in New Jersey. Some of them were investigated and federally prosecuted with prison convictions and all for doing basically this exact same thing.

Of course, not everybody got a prison sentence. One of them got to the White House.

And now I should mention another bridgegate figure, Governor Christie`s personal lawyer. He represented him through bridgegate, is about to become FBI director pending a Senate vote. Maybe the FBI will look differently on these matters in the future.

Now, we`re starting to see what happens when Christie politics enter the White House.

Watch this space.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is in Moscow right now. He is putting the finishing touches on another episode of his new show "ON ASSIGNMENT." And he`s in Russia, he`s back in Russia, and he`s done some really, really interesting work about Russian interference in our election and some of the ongoing questions about what happened there and what happened in the aftermath there, specifically in Russia.

You might remember after the election, one of the stories that we covered in terms of strange dealings in Russia that maybe as Americans we should start to pay more attention to, was that after our election -- I think it was in December -- we found out after the fact, several weeks after it happened, that there had been a handful of arrests in Russia, including a couple of senior FSB officers.

Remember the story about there was a meeting, a senior high-level FSB meeting in December, and officers burst into the room where there was this FSB meeting happening, they threw a bag over the head of a senior Russian intelligence official, and they dragged him out of the meeting in front of all the other FSB guys?

Well, we later found out that that guy who they dragged out of the room with the bag on his head, he, a senior FSB official, another FSB official, and two other Russians, including one who worked for a very controversial software company, not only were all those folks arrested in December after our election, they were all charged with treason, which is very rare and which means the Russian state is saying absolutely nothing about the accusations against these guys or the trial.

Richard spoke with a lawyer for one of them, who was afraid to tell him very much. He wouldn`t seen say which of the four men who are arrested is his client.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can be completely clear with you and say much about this case because it`s quite dangerous. It`s quite dangerous for me, for my client, and even for you.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Why would it be dangerous for me? I understand for your client. He`s in jail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s a quite sensitive information, and it`s still considered like a state -- state secret in Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: I`m telling you, whether or not you have watched the other Richard Engel series in the "ON ASSIGNMENT" thing, you need to watch what he`s going to show tomorrow night. Tomorrow night, right here, 9:00 p.m. Eastern here on MSNBC. "ON ASSIGNMENT WITH RICHARD ENGEL". I hereby order you don`t miss it.

That does it for us tonight. I will see you again shortly.

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

Good evening, Lawrence.

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END