Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 3, 2017 Guest: Del Quentin Wilber, Paul Butler, Eric Swalwell, Chris Coons, Asawin Suebsaeng
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Thank you so much, Chris. A rock `em, sock `em night. Thank you.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Thank you.
REID: All right. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off.
And at this hour, we`re following the big story of the night. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller has in the past few weeks convened a grand jury in Washington, D.C. to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
"The Journal`s" reporting has been followed up by "The Washington Post." Now, of course, it`s important to note that tonight`s news does not mean that indictments are eminent or even for that matter that they would necessarily happen.
But it does mark the next formal step in special counsel Mueller`s investigation. Typically, when federal prosecutors convene a grand jury, they do so in order to show that grand jury evidence. A grand jury can also subpoena documents and force witnesses to testify.
In the end, a federal prosecutor needs a grand jury to sign off on any indictment if -- and, of course, that`s a big if -- criminal charges are going to be brought. In that sense, today`s news is the latest step in a long process that started just over a year ago when the FBI launched an investigation into the Trump campaign`s contacts with Russia.
While it was widely suspected that the FBI was investigating those ties, the existence of the investigation only became official in March when FBI Director James Comey sent shockwaves across the country by confirming during a live hearing on Capitol Hill and broadcast all around the globe to confirm what everyone until then had only suspected. The Trump campaign was a subject of an open active counterintelligence investigation by the FBI and had been since the summer before the election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government`s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia`s efforts.
As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That was James Comey testifying in March, revealing that the investigation had begun months before, in July of 2016. Comey was due to testify again on May 11th in open session. But two days before that hearing the bombshell news landed late on the night of May 9th that Donald Trump had fired James Comey from his job as FBI director.
Two days later in his first public comments, the president sat down for an interview with NBC News` Lester Holt that turned out to be very consequential since during that interview, he spoke very candidly about why he fired Comey, because he was thinking about Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no good time to do it. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: So, that was the reason Donald Trump gave, voluntarily on TV.
Later that night and over the next few days, James Comey`s side of the story was revealed in the pages of "The New York Times." At first, a private dinner at the White House back in January, at a private dinner at the White House back in January, the president had asked Comey to pledge his loyalty to him. And then during a meeting in the Oval Office, and after dismissing everyone else from the room, including the attorney general, Trump had pressured Comey to drop the investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn, reportedly saying, I hope you can let this go.
So, we have these two stories, the president saying he fired Comey over Russia and what he called the made-up Russia story, and the former FBI director saying that the president pushed him to back off the investigation into Michael Flynn.
Those competing stories prompted a crucial development in this story. The day after the report about the Oval Office meeting, things began moving at the Justice Department. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the investigation months before because he had been part of the Trump campaign. That left Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in charge. And after the president said he was thinking of Russia when he fired Comey and after Comey`s side of the story got out, Deputy A.G. Rosenstein made the decision to appoint a special counsel, and not just any special counsel but Comey`s predecessor at the FBI. Robert Mueller was taking over the investigation.
Since then, special counsel Mueller has been methodically going about business, hiring a team of experienced lawyers, 16 and counting, with extensive knowledge of federal corruption, money laundering, and criminal fraud cases. Occasionally, details of the special counsel`s work have spilled out into the open.
In June, we learned that the special counsel had essentially swallowed up ongoing federal investigations into the activities of Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and of Michael Flynn. NBC News and other outlets reported that subpoenas were issued to business associates of both Manafort and Flynn by a federal grand jury in the eastern district of Virginia, which made sense. The eastern district of Virginia sits right outside Washington, D.C. It handles lots of national security cases and prosecutions with an intelligence component to them.
Indeed, for months while grand jury details have been scarce, it seems that the federal investigation was being run out of the eastern district of Virginia that is until tonight, when "The Wall Street Journal" and now "The Washington Post" reported that the special counsel has, for several weeks, been using a separate grand jury in Washington, D.C.
And here`s an interesting idea: "The Washington Post" reporting, quote, experts said that Washington would be the appropriate place to convene a grand jury to examine actions taken by Trump since he became president and took up residence at the White House. Many of the potential crimes Mueller`s teams are investigating would have occurred in the district, such as allegations that Trump aides or advisers made false statements in disclosure records or lied to federal agents.
Tonight, lawyers for the president have been united in their response. Three members of his inside legal team have responded to the news with versions of the same statement saying, quote: we have no reason to believe that President Trump is under investigation.
And joining us now is one of the reporters that broke this story, Del Quentin Wilber and he covers the Justice Department and federal law enforcement for "The Wall Street Journal."
Del Wilber, congratulations on your scoop and thanks for being here.
DEL QUENTIN WILBER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, BROKE STORY ON D.C. GRAND JURY: Thanks for having me.
REID: So, let`s just go through a few of the things that you brought out in this piece. The first one is the idea that the fact of this separate grand jury in D.C. means that Mueller`s team has dug in for the long haul - - if you could explain.
WILBER: Yes. You know, they had already been, as you said, using a grand jury out of the Eastern District of Virginia that was investigating -- at least that we`re able too determine -- Michael Flynn. And by switching to one in D.C., what you`re essentially saying is, hey, if we were just going to keep investigating only Flynn and Flynn aspects of this case, we would just keep using the same grand jury. We wouldn`t want to reinvent the wheel.
By switching and starting his own grand jury in Washington, D.C., just a stone`s throw from his own office, what he`s saying is this is going to be a broader probe, this is very serious, you know, and I`m expected to keep doing this for a while.
REID: And you`ve also talked about some of the people that he`s brought in as evidence that this is a very serious probe that could be long term. One of them is Greg Andres, a top partner at a big New York law firm. Explain why he`s important.
WILBER: Well, if you`re a top partner in in a major New York law firm and you`re -- you know, you`re making good money, you`re not going to leave your good solid job at a major law firm to join an investigation that`s not going to last very long or is not very serious. You`re going to leave it for something that you think will end somewhere or come place that`s going to be -- you know, a big challenge that`s going to take a long time and a lot of time. And so, that`s why -- you know, you wouldn`t leave a big law firm willy-nilly as one of the former federal prosecutors I interviewed said.
REID: Yes. And, you know, it`s always hard to figure out what the motivations are of people to leak. This is, you know, very sensitive information obviously and, of course, we aren`t going to characterize who your sources are. Do you get a sense of why information like this is coming out at this time?
WILBER: No, I think people, in general, if you keep just digging, you`re eventually going to get some information. There`s been a lot of great reporting on a lot of sensitive subjects lately about stuff in Washington.
But as you know, grand juries are secret for like the prosecutors and the agents who work there. But they`re not secret -- if you`re a witness and you go before a grand jury, you can tell the world what you said in there, or if you get a subpoena, you can tell the world what you said in there.
And so, the issue when you know that they`re moving to a grand jury probe, it`s no longer a counterintelligence investigation which is highly classified, very secretive. Grand jury stuff is still secretive but it`s open to the public. You know you have a bunch of grand jurors in that room. You vetted them but not, you know, super extensively. And you have to report back to them periodically on what you`ve found, if you -- especially if you want to seek charges at some time.
And as we know now, there`s no -- you know, they`re still sussing out. This is very early in the process. He`s only been doing this for two months.
REID: Right. And we also know that -- and we`re going to talk a little bit later with one of (INAUDIBLE) doing it, that there are now some attempts to protect this investigation from Donald Trump who I`m sure is no pleased with these new developments. Can you talk a little bit about that?
WILBER: You know, there have been some measures put forth in Congress to try and insulate Robert Mueller so he can`t be fired, because some members of both parties are concerned that, you know, President Trump has gotten in -- you know, he wasn`t happy with Sessions last week and, you know, he`s indicated that he doesn`t like this Russian investigation. They`re a little concerned that he might take steps to try to curtail it or end it -- perhaps ala the Saturday Night Massacre in 1973 during the Watergate investigation.
WILBER: You know, what people have to keep in mind when these things are being investigated like this, no one knows how they`re going to turn out and people who prognosticate, you know, a potential endings to these things are often wrong.
WILBER: And a lot of stuff never turns into indictments or charges. And so, we need to be very measured and thoughtful as we do it. It`s a significant move. It shows that, you know, having your own grand jury in Washington highlights that hey, this is broader than what I thought it was before.
WILBER: And they`re going to be issuing subpoenas and perhaps taking testimony.
REID: Yes. Well, Del Wilber, reporter for "The Wall Street Journal", thank you for your time tonight. Great scoop.
WILBER: Thanks for having me.
REID: All right. Thank you.
Now, if you ever had grand jury duty, and I have, you know that a grand jury is no garden variety jury. Consider it kind of a legal heat seeking missile, a blunt instrument to track down documents and witnesses, including witnesses who might otherwise try to plead the Fifth. But it`s not so simple to break a date with the grand jury.
And joining us now is Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and now law professor at Georgetown University.
Thanks for coming back, Paul. Great to have you.
PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Great to be here.
REID: So, let`s, first of all, start with the first piece. What is the significance of having this jury in D.C. as opposed to just using the grand jury that was already impaneled in the eastern district of Virginia?
BUTLER: So this is an important development but not unexpected one. Grand juries have the power to make reluctant witnesses testify under oath and penalty of perjury and they can subpoena records like e-mails and banks records. But a grand jury in Virginia can do that just as well as a grand jury in the District of Columbia.
Prosecutors often think ahead to what if. What if there`s going to be a trial? What if we bring charges? Where would the most prosecution friendly jurors be?
And between the District of Columbia and northern Virginia, special counsel Mueller might well have made the decision that the District of Columbia would have jurors that were more likely to convict if -- and we`re still a long way away from prosecution, but if there`s a prosecution, better jurors in D.C.
REID: Now, does it also indicate what kinds of potential crimes they might be investigating? Does it now sort of point you toward the scope of things that might have been done in Washington filling out the forms to get your security clearance in Washington, Foreign Agents Registration Act in Washington? Is that indicated using a D.C. jury versus a Virginia jury?
BUTLER: Absolutely, the White House is in the District of Columbia. The FBI is in the District of Columbia. So, potentially, there could be FBI witnesses.
One of the concerns about conversations between former FBI Director Comey and President Trump, it`s always he said, he said. If they could bring in other FBI agents to corroborate some of the damning information that we`ve heard from James Comey, that would bolster the prosecutor`s case.
REID: And, you know, I asked you this question before, but I`m going to bring it up again because now you have this grand jury -- this grand jury that`s in D.C. Could this grand jury -- and grand juries can ask just from serving on one, they can ask to see witnesses that they would like to talk to. Could this grand jury wind up calling Donald Trump?
BUTLER: They certainly could. The president would -- if he`s a target of the grand jury, would have the opportunity to exercise his Fifth Amendment right not to counsel. You know, grand jurors have to be secret in terms of what the grand jurors and the prosecutors say. But I bet this leak is not something that special counsel Mueller especially minds because this ratcheting up of the investigation I think makes it more difficult for President Trump to get rid of special counsel Mueller because that would be more evidence that he`s trying to impede the investigation.
REID: Right. So, take people inside what a grand jury is like. When a person goes in to testify, do they get to have a lawyer? Sort of -- how does it work?
BUTLER: You know, as a prosecutor, I love grand juries because you`re the legal adviser. So, imagine the classroom with 23 seats. That`s how many grand juries there are in the federal system. And as the legal adviser you instruct them about the law and you help them decide which witnesses. So, you have a lot of control.
The defense attorney is not allowed in the room. She can wait outside and ask her client what happened. But inside the grand jury, it`s the prosecutor who runs the show.
REID: Yes, which is why they had the saying about indictments and ham sandwiches, right?
Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and author, thank you very much for being here. I appreciate it.
BUTLER: Always a pleasure, Joy.
REID: Thank you.
And while we were sorting through the 36-point gigantic -- 36 gigantic headlines tonight, we got another piece of really important news on a key figure in the Trump-Russia investigation and that story is next.
REID: Some new information tonight about one of the main characters in the Trump-Russia story. Michael Flynn, the former Trump administration`s national security adviser who was forced out of the White House after just 24 days in office.
"The Associated Press" reports tonight that Flynn is amending a public filing to include income that he never mentioned during his brief time in the Trump administration. Back in March, Flynn listed more than $1 million in earnings. "The A.P." reported that his new filing adds $28,000 in income from the Trump transition team, $5,000 for work he did on nuclear power plants in the Middle East, and $140,000 for consulting work for an Iranian-American multimillionaire.
It also reportedly shows that he had planned to do some work for the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. And that`s the company with ties to Steve Bannon and father and daughter billionaire Republican donors, Rebecca and Robert Mercer, that provided data analysis and targeted communications for the Trump campaign and for the Brexit campaign. "The A.P." reports that Flynn terminated that deal after Donald Trump won the presidency.
Now, Flynn has been out of his government job for six months but he`s still dotting his I`s and crossing his T`s, which is maybe a smart move for a guy who`s a key part of not only a special counsel investigation, but also four congressional investigations, including the House Intelligence Committee, which has been looking into Michael Flynn, along with other aspects of a Trump Russian investigation.
Members of that committee met with special counselor Robert Mueller earlier this summer to make sure their investigations did not get in each other`s way.
And joining me now is Congressman Eric Swalwell from California who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks for coming by tonight.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Of course. Good evening, Joy.
REID: Good evening.
OK. So, let`s talk about the noninterference sort of situation. Now that you know that there is this -- this grand jury, a grand jury that Bob Mueller has impaneled or has convened in Washington, D.C., how does that impact the House Intelligence Committee investigation?
SWALWELL: Sure. We both have important roles to play. Ours is not a criminal probe. We want to tell the American people how the interference campaign happened, what vulnerabilities existed, whether any U.S. persons were involved, and most importantly, how we can ever find ourselves in a mess like this again. So, we`re not indicting people. We`re not bringing criminal charges. We are going to tell the American people essentially what happened.
Now, Bob Mueller`s probe is one that is, you know, looking at whether crimes were carried out. So, we don`t want to get in the way. We want to show progress as well. But, you know, you always want to limit how many times a witness has to recount a story unnecessarily. You could create inadvertent inconsistencies and, you know, you want to make sure that you`re not committing those redundancies.
But, again, we do have a responsibility on our committee to tell the American people what happened and I`m confident that Mike Conway and Adam Schiff have been doing that.
REID: Well, noninterference includes -- let`s just say that one of the witnesses that you wanted to call were to say to your committee, well, you know, if I went and told that story, I`m worried about what would happen to this grand jury. I would like immunity please, use -- or the kind of immunity that a committee such as yours could grant. Does this grand jury probe mean that the committee would be more reluctant to offer that kind of immunity?
SWALWELL: Well, Joy, I would say, you know, as a former prosecutor, there`s always a reluctance to grant immunity, especially if you don`t have another corroborating evidences to what the president is going to say. So, I think, you know, that reluctance exists just generally.
But, you know, at this point, that`s not something that we have considered. I also just, you know add to what you said earlier about Michael Flynn and also Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. I mean, the number of amendments that we have seen from these guys is remarkable. More amendments a than the Bill of Rights that they keep putting forward which shows us that only once light has been shined on what`s been going do they acknowledge the relationships that they had and that`s very telling.
REID: Well, you know, I`m going to have you put your prosecutor hat on for a moment. If somebody were to continually revise information that could come before you as a prosecutor, would that make you suspicious of their underlying behavior?
SWALWELL: Absolutely. And, you know, jurors were told, if this were to make its way to trial, a juror is told if a witness deliberately makes a false statement, that you can use that as evidence as a consciousness of guilt. And so, if people are, you know, saying one thing and then going back and revising their story, if you believe that (AUDIO GAP) to cover up, you know, the original story or the original investigation, you can use that against them as a fact that they knew they were guilty of something. Now, it`s too early to tell if that is what is going on here. But I am very, very concerned about the number of times that we see individuals in this investigation change their story.
REID: As a member of Congress, are you concerned about Bob Mueller being able to complete his job without the president trying to fire him?
SWALWELL: The president certainly seems to be trying to intimidate him by setting red lines and trying to undermine his credibility by going after other lawyers who are on his team. So, that is a concern. We`re putting guardrails in place. You`re seeing that members of the Senate are essentially saying to the president, you can go ahead and fire Bob Mueller but we will make sure that he is still in some fashion on this case and I think that`s because there`s a fear that the president, if he could, would clear the field.
REID: Do you see Paul Ryan bringing a similar bill to the floor in the House?
SWALWELL: I hope so. I really, you know, like Paul Ryan. I think he`s a good man. I am concerned that he and others have just looked the other way when it`s come to the president`s conduct, particularly with Russia. That`s not good for our democracy.
And so, I hope that he understands that this is bigger than his party, one person that it`s really our democracy and the future of our elections that are at stake.
REID: All right. Congressman Eric Swalwell, member of the House Intelligence Committee -- thanks so much for you time.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
REID: All right. So what would happen to the grand jury convened for the Russia investigation if Robert Mueller was fired and what could be done to keep Mueller`s job secure. A surprising bipartisan answer to that question is just ahead. We`ll be right back.
REID: There are 16 of them, you could put them all on a football field and still have five to spare. Special counsel Robert Mueller has hired 16 lawyers to help him slog through the Trump-Russia investigation. He hired lawyer number 16 just this week, a guy named Greg Andres.
Mr. Andres used to be the deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department`s Criminal Division. He specialized in fraud and foreign bribery. And now he`s putting that expertise back to use flexing his fraud and foreign bribery muscles for the special counsel working on the Trump- Russia investigation.
The lineup of attorneys working for Mueller is like a fantasy league of super draft or super draft of all star attorneys. He has experts in white collar crime, organized crime, money laundering, cybersecurity. He`s got a skilled witness flipper, a fluent Russian speaker. He even has a freaking Watergate prosecutor working on this thing. It`s like the dream team of criminal investigations.
Now, we`ve long known that the president of the United States is not happy about this investigation into his campaign and his administration. He told "The New York Times" that if Robert Mueller started looking into his personal finances, that that would be a red line. He called it a violation of what the special counsel is allowed to poke his nose into.
We also know that Robert Mueller has crashed through that red line. His probe has reportedly expanded to start following the complicated trail of Trump`s business transactions and finances.
And then there`s today`s bombshell news from "The Wall Street Journal" that the Trump-Russia investigation now has its very other grand jury, a sign that the investigation is not slowing down anytime soon.
So, if the president wanted to fire Robert Mueller, if he wanted to throw some cold water on the witness flipper and the Watergate prosecutor and the grand jury and all of the rest of it, he does actually have a few options to push Mueller out of the way, which is why there`s a bipartisan push in Congress right now to take the options off of the table. There`s a quartet of senators from both sides of aisle cooking up two different bills right now that would block Trump from firing the special counsel, two Democrats and two Republicans working to shore up Robert Mueller and safeguard him from the president so that he can see this thing through to the end. So, the question is, will it work?
Joining us now, Democrat Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who along with Republican Senator Thom Tillis introduced the bipartisan Special Counsel Integrity Act.
Senator Coons, thank you for being here.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Thank you, Joy.
REID: And one of the interesting things when I read one of the stories about this today is that Thom Tillis approached you with this idea. Can you tell us a little more about that?
COONS: That`s right. That`s right. Senator Tillis and I serve on the Judiciary Committee together. And he came up to me on the floor and asked if I`d be interested in moving forward quickly on a bill that would provide back end protections for the special counsel. Senator Graham and Senator Booker have already introduced a bill that would provide front end protections. So, if the president tries to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, the bill the Senators Graham and Senator Booker have introduced would provide some speed bump, a three-judge panel that would have to review that to see if it was appropriate.
The bill that I`ve introduced with Senator Thom Tillis would also the special counsel to go to court and to sue to be reinstated, and a similar three-judge panel would review whether or not he had been inappropriately removed. Each approach takes a different side. Pre-firing or post-firing, so that if any one of the bills moves forward, we`ve got some greater protections for Bob Mueller and for this important special counsel investigation.
REID: Well, you know, however good these bills are and how many protections that they provide potentially to Bob Mueller, they still have to get to the floor.
COONS: That`s right.
REID: And so far, Mitch McConnell who runs the Senate has run it in a very particular way. He only wants to do things with Republicans. He`s shown no sense of -- any interest in doing anything on a bipartisan line, and he`s a staunch supporter of Donald Trump.
So, do you expect either of these two bills to get to the floor?
COONS: Well, Joy, we just had an interesting moment in the Senate where despite opposition from the White House, from the president, a strong bipartisan vote on a Russia sanctions bill, on a bill that came to the floor under Mitch McConnell`s leadership produced a bill that the president ultimately was compelled to sign by the veto proof majorities by which it passed the House and the Senate. So, while there may not be great enthusiasm for this bill initially today from the majority leader, my hunch is that as conversations happen over the break with both Republican and Democratic senators, that support for it will quickly build and we may well see this bill on the floor in the fall.
REID: And just in talking to your colleagues, do you think this bill could pass with a veto-proof majority, because one would assume that Trump would veto it?
COONS: Well, I`m optimistic that that may happen. We`ve seen already a number of calls today for my office and to Senator Tillis` office for folks interested in co-sponsorship, and I had a good conversation on the floor with Senator Booker and Senator Graham, thanking them for their leadership on this issue and exploring ways we might work together going forward.
This is the first time I can remember Senator Tillis in particular stepping forward and taking on a tough stance against the president, and I think this is just one more sign that we`re seeing an increasing number of Republicans eager to find ways that we can strengthen the separation of powers and strengthen the Senate`s hand in this ongoing difficult situation where there`s an important investigation we need to protect.
REID: And let`s say that neither of these two bills, neither of these two bipartisan bills was to wind up becoming law for one reason or other, if Donald Trump found a way, let`s say he fired Rod Rosenstein, he got down to somebody in the Department of Justice who would mire Bob Mueller for him, is there a possibility that we could see the return of the independent counsel statute?
COONS: We might. We might see action by the Senate even though we are technically in recess. We do come back into session every three days while we`re out on so-called recess for the month of August. And we might see bipartisan action to reintroduce and repass the independent counsel statute.
I frankly think the most likely action is that we would insist on the reinstatement of Bob Mueller. He enjoys very broad support in the Senate both among Republicans and Democrats because of his long service as the FBI director, because of his record of respectable leadership as a senior federal prosecutor. And I do think the news of today that he`s impaneled a grand jury in Washington will make the president really take some pause here.
As you`ve reported earlier, a federal grand jury in the hands of a skilled senior prosecutor like Robert Mueller is a very dangerous tool indeed against the president.
REID: Yes, and if you could send the president a message tonight, because I`m sure he`s not amused by the news that he`s hearing, what would be the message that you would send him from the United States Senate or at least in the Democrats in the Senate?
COONS: It is in the president`s interest, it`s in the country`s interest to let this investigation go forward. The president should have nothing to worry from a thorough federal investigation if he`s got nothing to hide. If he takes an abrupt action now and either fires the attorney general or directs the firing of Bob Mueller, there will be a strong bipartisan reaction from the Senate. And I think the consequences for him will be even more grave if he does that.
REID: All right. Senator Chris Coons, really appreciate your time. Thank you.
COONS: Thank you.
REID: Thank you.
All right. Well, today, we got to see something that the White House did not mean to be public. That story is next.
REID: Before the news broke today that FBI special counsel Robert Mueller is now using a grand jury in Washington, D.C. as part of his Russia investigation, the other big story of the day had to do with another leak, a really big one.
"The Washington Post" today published White House transcripts of two phone calls that took place back in January. One between President Donald Trump and President Enrique Pena of Mexico, and the other with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia.
The White House has note-takers who monitor these kinds of phone calls. So the fact that these transcripts exist is not surprising. But this is the behind the curtain thing that we never get to see, that we`re never allowed to see. These are classified documents typically only seen by White House staff and senior members of the administration.
But now, somebody has leaked these transcripts to "The Washington Post" which published them to their Website in their entirety this morning.
We had previously known that Trump and Pena Nieto had discussed the border wall in their first official phone call and that they had differing opinions on the wall, to say the least. What we did not know was that in that Donald Trump explained he was getting a lot of political pressure to ensure that Mexico would pay for the wall just like he promised on the campaign trail and all those rallies. So, he tried to get the president of Mexico to avoid talking publicly about who would pay for the wall and just to say the countries are working it out. Quote: I`m willing to say we`re working it out, but that means it will come out in a wash and all that, and that is OK.
In the course of this conversation, Trump also referred to the state of New Hampshire, currently dealing with a crisis of opioid abuse, as a, quote, drug infested den, and said he won the state because of it.
Then there`s the phone call with Australian Prime Minister Turnbull. Now, we had known that this one was contentious, back in February. Back then, senior U.S. officials told "The Washington Post" that Trump had complained on the phone with Turnbull that, quote, this was the worst call so far and that he abruptly ended the call after a disagreement over a commitment made during the Obama administration that the U.S. would take in over 1,000 refugees from an Australian detention center.
But now that we have a transcript of the call, we got to hear just how angry Trump was.
President Trump: This is going to kill me. I`m the world`s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country and now I`m agreeing to take 2,000 people. And I agree I can vet them, I can vet them, but that puts me in a bad position. It makes me looks so bad and I`ve only been here a week.
Prime Minister Turnbull: With great respect, that is not right. It is not 2000.
President Trump: Well, it is close. I`ve also heard like 5,000 as well.
Prime Minister Turnbull: The given number in the agreement is 1,250 and it`s entirely a matter of your vetting.
No kidding. This is the phone call with our ally, our ally. That this is how it went.
Trump wrapped this phone call by telling the prime minister of Australia, quote: As far as I`m concerned that is not enough. Malcolm, I`ve had it. I`ve been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.
Putin was a pleasant call.
On the one hand, this is big important news about a side of government that you don`t get to see. As journalists, this is the kind of leaked information that informs our understanding of the presidency and the way our president operates. And for historians, it`s just pure gold.
On the other hand this is another huge leak coming from this White House and it comes right after John Kelly was brought in to help the White House gets its act together.
And so, the question now, what happens? How is this administration handling these leaks, which many argue are destabilizing the executive branch? Can they get the leaks to stop? And how will the leaks reaction to huge developments like the news tonight that Robert Mueller has convened a D.C. grand jury?
And joining us now is Asawin Suebsaeng, politics editor for "The Daily Beast".
All right. Asawin, thank you for being here.
Let`s talk about the White House reaction to the first set of leaks, this being one earlier today about those phone calls that the president placed to Mexico and Australia. How are they reacting to that?
ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, POLITICS REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, senior officials in the White House right now and certainly the president himself are, as you can probably guess, not pleased. Along with Russia and -- along with Trump-Russia related news, there is nothing that the president hates more seeing on FOX News, reading in newspapers, seeing online than news that highly sensitive material has leaked out of his White House or his administration.
SUEBSAENG: It is an animating force in his and his senior staff`s vendetta against the, quote/unquote, deep state, the leakers in his administration. The traitors, the Democrats, the fake news media, what have you.
REID: But I mean, initially when Anthony Scaramucci was brought in for what, 10 days, this idea that he was going to clean out the leakers that were somehow connected to the comms team, the communications team.
REID: And clean out and push out Reince Priebus. And then you had the idea that General Kelly was going to come in and clamp down and impose order and discipline. But we haven`t seen the leaks subside at all.
So, is there now -- you know, what is the sense inside the administration if none of those ideas are working?
SUEBSAENG: Well, as disciplined and masterful a leader as John Kelly may or may not be as Trump`s new chief of staff, the more chaotic and messy an administration is, the more accelerated the leaking is. That`s just truth with every Republican and Democrat in the administration. And that starts from the top on down.
And when you have a president such as Donald Trump who is impulsive, if we`re to put it lightly, top administration officials and people in the know are not going to stop talking to reporters, the angrier they are or the more chaotic things get.
REID: And I`m wondering as you talk to administration where the president`s, you know -- at least the way he`s communicating about where his head is at, at the moment, regarding Bob Mueller. But it does seem to me that this is the thorn in his side. This Mueller investigation, the Russia investigation is what sets him off.
You know, is there still chatter inside the administration, inside the White House that Donald Trump could try to get rid of him?
SUEBSAENG: Well, people working in the West Wing who I and my colleague Lachlan Markay at thedailybeast.com spoke to today are mostly concerned right now with what the president might do, whether that`s later tonight, tomorrow morning, over the weekend, sometime in the near future with regards to Mueller, not just that oh, could he have another tantrum in which he fantasizes about ordering the sacking of Robert Mueller, but also could he make an outlandish public statement in an interview with a major newspaper, could he set off like a rapid angry tweet storm that not only could be a public relations headache for the people working in Donald Trump`s inner circle but could also be legally complicated in court.
REID: And I`m sure there are two other aspects, one, the need to lawyer up inside of the administration and also the two new generals who seem to be getting a lot of attention very quickly. Is Donald Trump happy with the ink that his new generals in charge, both McMaster and Kelly are getting, particularly the rest of it seeming so unstable?
SUEBSAENG: Well, something the president is incredibly displeased with right now that has to do with his generals and national security adviser, McMaster, is the options for combating extremists elements particularly in Afghanistan that he has been presented so far. As `The Daily Beast", NBC News, several other outlets reported over the last few weeks, the president has become increasingly incensed and furious by the Afghan war plans that have been put in front of him, to the point of, again, using the fired word again, Donald Trump has floated firing the top commander in Afghanistan --
SUEBSAENG: -- to his national security brass.
Donald Trump is getting to a place where he thinks that not just the United States but he as commander-in-chief of the United States armed forces is losing in Afghanistan.
SUEBSAENG: He has privately vented to confidants that he thinks the plans that`s being presented to him and the current policy that`s being executed in the Afghan war and elsewhere is making him look weak on a national stage and at home. And one thing we know about Donald Trump is he does not like to appear weak.
REID: Yes, to say nothing of the legal issue that is swirling around the White House.
Asawin Suebsaeng, politics editor for "The Daily Beast", thank you very much for being here.
SUEBSAENG: Thank you so much for having me.
REID: Thank you.
SUEBSAENG: And from constant leaking to dealing with a special prosecutor, this White House has been a chaotic place, to say the least. Our next guest says the chaos is not just epic, it`s historic. The great Michael Beschloss joins us next.
REID: Before there was Robert Mueller or Ken Starr, there was Archibald Cox. In May of 1973, Cox was named the special prosecutor for Watergate. He lasted in that job until October 20th, 1973, when the president Archibald Cox was investigating had him fired.
They called it the Saturday Night Massacre because in order to get rid of Archibald Cox, President Nixon pushed out first his attorney general and then his deputy attorney general before he got to someone willing to do the deed and fire the special prosecutor. The public reaction to that decision all but buried the congressional mail room.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More than 50,000 telegrams poured in on Capitol Hill today, so many Western Union was flocked. Most of them demanded impeaching Mr. Nixon. Few congressmen were in town because of the holiday. Among those here and impressed by his telegram was Democrat Morris Udall.
REP. MORRIS UDALL (D), ARIZONA: This come from Republicans and businessmen and people, most of whom begin their statement by saying, I`ve supported the president. I`ve never believed in impeachment, but he`s now gone too far, and we`re going to have to -- we want the Congress to take strong action.
There`s a real wave out there in the country today, Ray, on impeachment, and it`s got support it never had before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
A year and a half into the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon discovered the limits of what the public was willing to put up with. Americans would not sit still for the president of the United States trying to kill off the investigation into his administration. For voters, that was a bridge too far.
Well, we`re now a year into the investigation of a different president with a special counsel and a grand jury in D.C. Plus lots of White House staffers lawyering up.
There`s no way to know yet how all this ends, but we can try to measure this presidential crisis against the ones that came before it.
And joining us now for some much need perspective is MSNBC political -- presidential historian, Michael Beschloss.
Always great to talk to you, Michael.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Same here, Joy. Thank you. Thank you.
REID: I`m giddy about the telegrams. I`m going to try to get past that just for a moment. It`s such a great way to communicate.
BESCHLOSS: We`ll explain typewriters next time.
REID: Oh, and rotary phones. We`ll explain to the kids.
BESCHLOSS: Right, right.
REID: So it was interesting to see that the public, which didn`t initially catch on to Watergate, right? It wasn`t that they were always angry at Richard Nixon but that action sort of spurred public anger.
Can you see that same thing happening now as polarized as we are now?
BESCHLOSS: Yes, and I think actually the moment that we`re in is worse than October of `73 because Nixon, as you`ve said, was about to fire the special prosecutor who was asking for his secret tapes. About half a dozen of his inner circle were a couple months away of getting indicted. Plus, there was war in the Middle East. Plus, people around Nixon were worried that he was drinking too much and not showing up often enough for work, although people didn`t know that on the outside.
Compare that to now where we`ve got, you know, worryingly, an impending crisis in North Korea and elsewhere, a White House that has not exactly been known for disciplined staff the last six months, and a president who seems to be very much on the road that Nixon was doing almost anything to stop an investigation of his ties to Russia and other things. Even Nixon was not under a counterintelligence investigation for being too close to a foreign power.
REID: Yes. You know, what`s interesting is, you know, with Nixon and with LBJ, we get all this information about them as fascinating after the fact.
REID: But with Trump, it`s all sort of in the present and it`s in the moment.
REID: Was Nixon as blatant and obvious wanting to get rid of Archibald Cox as Donald Trump is about wanting to get rid of Bob Mueller?
BESCHLOSS: No, he wasn`t. He let it be known through his lawyers and his attorney general, to Cox, that he was not pleased that the tapes were being asked for and threatened, but not in the open way that Donald Trump did.
And Nixon was a constitutional lawyer. He was a very smart man. He was actually too wise to have made an admission of the kind that Donald Trump made to our Lester Holt, saying, I fired Comey, and the reason was to stop the investigation.
REID: Yes, it was a bit Scooby Doo, that admission.
BESCHLOSS: Right, right.
REID: NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss, always great to talk to you. Thanks for your time.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you. Be well.
REID: Thank you. You too.
We`ll be right back.
REID: Every reporter in Washington right now is chasing the story tonight about special counsel Robert Mueller convening a grand jury in Washington, D.C. as part of the Trump/Russia probe. The story was broken by "The Wall Street Journal" and then followed up by "The Washington Post."
And now, "The New York Times" has weighed in with that paper`s reporting. Citing several lawyers involved in the case, "The New York Times" reports that the special counsel has, quote, issued subpoenas from a Washington- based grand jury in recent weeks. At least some of subpoenas were for documents related to the business dealings of Michael T. Flynn, the retired general who briefly served as President Trump`s national security adviser. So, that part`s new.
And "The Times" reporting differs a little bit from what we`ve seen tonight regarding the grand jury itself. "The Times" says Mr. Mueller has not impaneled a special grand jury. The lawyers involved in the case said and has decided instead to use one of several grand juries that regularly sit in Washington.
So, the reporting about Flynn is new, and description of the grand juries is different. Who`s right? Is it possible to even know for sure?
Rejoining us is former federal prosecutor Paul Butler.
OK, Paul. What does it matter if this is a special grand jury or an existing one that Robert Mueller is using?
BUTLER (via telephone): It does not matter at all. Federal grand juries sit for 18 months. Typically, they hear many cases. So Mueller has a choice of starting from scratch with a new grand jury or going with one that was already hearing cases.
It may be that he had witnesses whose testimony he wanted to lock in immediately or documents that he wanted immediate access to. This is still a significant escalation of the investigation.
REID: And would that grand jury be able to hear other cases not related to this?
BUTLER: Of course. That`s typically what they do. Grand jurors in 18 months, they literally hear hundreds of cases.
REID: OK. Paul Butler, thank you very much. We appreciate you coming back.
BUTLER: Great to be back, Joy.
REID: Thank you.
And that does it for us tonight.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END