Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 25, 2017
Guest: Bob Bauer, Jon Meacham, Adam Schiff, Glenn Thrush, Ruben Gallego
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Ari Melber who is pulling a double shift tonight, in for Rachel.
Just saw you on my TV at 6:00 p.m. You`ve got a lot in store for yourself, evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Thank you, Chris. A lot of the news has changed as well.
MELBER: Have a good weekend.
HAYES: Thank you.
MELBER: And thanks to you at home for joining us. Rachel does have the night off.
We are witnessing what a Friday night hurricane looks like for the Trump White House. This is not just an incredibly busy night. It is getting to be a wild night.
Now, we continue to watch this life-threatening category 4 hurricane that is closing in on the Texas coast. Hurricane Harvey is big. It`s slow- moving. And it does have the potential to deliver epic amounts of storage surge and rain to heavily industrial and highly populated parts of Texas all along the Gulf of Mexico.
And obviously, the eyes of the entire country are on this enormous storm. And, of course, the millions of people in its path on this Friday night.
We`re also seeing what this Trump White House is doing as this life- threatening storm barrels down on the mainland United States. For the White House tonight, the event of this storm means it has been time to make the ban on transgender troops official, to announce this blockbuster news, the resignation of the very controversial adviser Sebastian Gorka, formerly a deputy adviser to the president. He came to the White House with very contested and disputed and very controversial ties to a host of political groups that have called Islam an inherently violent religion.
And then there`s this, this is the mother of all Friday night news dumps, done during the hurricane, while the humanitarian questions still abound. Within this very past hour, as you may have heard, as the nation watches what is now a category 4 hurricane in Texas, the Trump White House announces a presidential pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Sheriff Arpaio was a long time law enforcement official with Maricopa County in Arizona, that includes Phoenix, and Sheriff Joe became, as you may know, the leading face of anti-immigrant fervor in this country, even lawless fervor. Last month, he was convicted for criminal contempt of court because a judge said he ignored an order to stop rounding of people that he suspected of being undocumented immigrants and doing so in an unlawful manner.
In fact, the sheriff, who is supposed to enforce the law, was facing up to six months in prison for violating the law. Sheriff Arpaio was, of course, an early and resolute supporter of Donald Trump politically back from during the campaign.
And then this week, the president went to Phoenix, Arizona for that very controversial campaign-style rally amidst other calls of unity. And then he did something that now, in the midst of this hurricane, takes on a very different light. He spoke directly with his political crowd in that campaign setting about what appears to have been, we know tonight, a use of his presidential power, his authority to potentially pardon Sheriff Arpaio.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
So, was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?
He should have had a jury. But you know what? I`ll make a prediction. I think he`s going to be just fine, OK?
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is what apparently the pardon power looks like when turned into "American Idol." Now, that night the president said through aides that he wasn`t going to pardon Sheriff Arpaio, he didn`t want to cause any controversy, it was explained. The White House saying now, tonight, in the midst of this hurricane, and we don`t know obviously how bad it`s going to get, how many Americans will be affected, whether God forbid anybody loses their lives, but this is the night in the midst of a category 4 hurricane that the White House unveils the pardon.
In a statement that doesn`t mention the sheriff`s crimes or mention the normal process used by all presidents in both parties for pardons, including a pardon memo and review by lawyers, instead the president basically lionizes Arpaio as a kind of a public servant, saying, quote: Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life`s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now 85 years old. And after more than 50 years of admirable service to our nation, he is a worthy candidate for a presidential pardon.
The presidential pardon power is absolute. But every other U.S. president has typically used it after the criminal process unfolds, not to circumvent the criminal justice process. Tonight, Donald Trump very explicitly used the onset of what we`re told could be the most dangerous U.S.-bound hurricane in over 12 years to unveil a pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio that very clearly flouts that criminal justice process.
And it sends a message, quite frankly, to sheriffs and law enforcement officials who may be found violating the law by judges, Donald Trump has your back if your violations or excesses involve cracking down on immigrants in this country.
So legally, there are two things to understand about Trump`s use of the pardon power tonight. It is formally constitutional in the sense that the Constitution does give the president this unilateral power. It is also deliberately undermining the law itself, in the sense that deploying the pardon power to side with a sheriff over a judge before the criminal justice process is even complete, undermines the particular law being enforced.
So, while it is constitutional, it does not mean it is constructive, let alone a good idea.
Joining us now for more context on this very unusual evening is former White House counsel Bob Bauer who served for President Obama.
Thank you for joining me.
BOB BAUER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA (via telephone): Thank you. I`m glad to be with you.
MELBER: I have you by phone because this is certainly the ultimate breaking news. I would like your reaction on whether this is, A, constitutional, B, follows the proper process, and C, your view of the announcement coming in the midst of this hurricane?
BAUER: Well, in the first instance, I would say it is constitutional in one sense but it may turn out to be very consequential for him in another. So, I don`t think it is a free pass for him that he can simply stand behind the pardon power and say I`ve done what any president can do on a fully unqualified basis. So, that will be my answer for your first question.
The answer to your second question, I would have to ask you again to repeat it.
MELBER: Of course. We are on the phone. Bob Bauer, the second question is, you`ve worked on these issues. Do we have any indication that the process was followed?
We`ve been hearing all week, and Rachel`s reported on this, the idea that General John Kelly is instituting order and affecting what paperwork goes into the White House. Based on what we know, does it look like this went through the formal pardon review in your experience or not?
BAUER: No, there`s no indication of that at all. He doesn`t mention for example in his statement that he had a recommendation from the Department of Justice. One question that I think it might be interesting to hear the White House pressed to answer is whether there was any discussion at all with the department, and if there was, what the department of my said. So, that`s one box that I think still needs to be checked. He said nothing about it.
And then, as you said in the opening, when you talk about irregularity of process, let`s begin in talking about how extraordinary this is with the fact that he decided to review the grounds for the pardon at a political rally. And he made it clear he was talking about this pardon as an act that should be particularly interesting to the, quote, people in this room, that is to say, to the sort segment of supporters that he thought would respond particularly well to it, and then he teased out his intention to do it.
So, from there to the present day, including the release this evening, I would have to say that I certainly can`t remember any exercise of the pardon power certainly in modern times of anything like this.
The last question you asked is sort of answered by my second response here, which is his decision to do it tonight could be just that he`s sort of indifferent to the circumstances in the southeastern United States or his thought was that he`s narrow-casting this to an audience that was going to receive it, like the one in the room at the rally, but that he is not interested in having it be a larger story or people around him are not interested in having it be a larger story, so he pushed it out on a night when the people are following the course of the hurricane.
MELBER: Mr. Bauer, you make such an interesting point there, this is a president who delights in the attention, in the televised event, when he introduced his Supreme Court justice, it was very much prime time TV. And as you point out, this is the opposite. This is at a time when even people who hear about it or who have a negative recollection, in many parts of United States tonight we`ve been reporting later in the hour, people literally cannot worry about any news than their own well being and that of their family and friends as they figure out what to do in southern Texas and the Gulf. So, it`s very much in that sense directly distracting.
This also comes on another big story that Rachel`s been reporting and that we`re going to get to later in the hour, these brand-new subpoenas, the first grand jury subpoenas issued by Bob Mueller and publicly disclosed, which brings us to something that we saw you previously wrote about linking Arpaio to Russia. You wrote: If the president does pardon Arpaio, he will do so in the belief that it will be all political gain and no cost, he will be wrong. An act of this kind cannot fail to affect Mueller and his team as they investigate obstruction, and the president`s approach on respect for law.
What do you mean?
BAUER: So, obviously, the Arpaio case isn`t directly related to Russia. But on the other hand, let`s talk first about the president`s first musings about his exercise of the pardon power, it was in the context of questions about whether he could pardon himself or his aides in the Russia investigation.
So here you could say, you know, maybe he`s trying out his pardon training wheels with Mr. Arpaio and then intends to fight more furiously in his own direction or the direction of people he wants to protect. One way or another, I think one way we might want to look at this is he is communicating to the prosecutors an attitude toward the rule of law that for somebody who is currently under inquiry at least for potential obstruction of justice, is not what it seems to me his lawyers would want him to communicate.
As you point out, this is an extraordinary use of the pardon power. It really looks to me more on the facts like a direct interference with the administration of justice, not consistent with the normal criteria for granting pardons. It was done in highly political circumstances as in the announcement at the rally. It seems to me that for somebody whose attitude toward the rule of law is very much at issue, after the Comey episode and other related activities of his to try to slow the course or end of Russia investigation, this is, it seems to me, an imprudent step on his part, I suppose I`ll put it that way.
MELBER: You`re almost saying that on the narrow basis of Donald Trump`s personal self-interest in criminal liability exposure, this was potentially a bad idea because of the ongoing obstruction inquiry?
BAUER: Sure, because he`s painting a picture of himself. I mean, the question is when, for example, he asked Jim Comey to swear loyalty to him, when he called the intelligence chiefs and asked them to dissuade Comey from pursuing the investigation, you know, what was one to make of that conduct? Was it that he was inexperienced, he didn`t know what he was doing, he kind of blundered into it? Or is it more consequential than that, that this was somebody who had an instrumental and inappropriate view of the rule of law?
And it seems to me that the exercise of pardon in the Arpaio case tends to support the latter interpretation. And that`s not the interpretation that`s going to serve him well as people who are investigating his behavior try to decide something about his motive.
MELBER: Right. You put it so well, Mr. Bauer, and raised a more profound question, which is just because the Constitution affords an absolute power, it does not mean it can never be abused. A governor also has very absolute pardon power but if he`s caught selling or auctioning off pardon, it doesn`t mean there is no recourse.
White House counsel under President Obama, Bob Mauer, thank you making for time for us on this busy Friday night.
BAUER: Sure. It`s a pleasure. Have a good evening.
MELBER: I really appreciate it.
I want to go right to presidential historian Jon Meacham.
Thank you as well for joining us. Your thoughts on what`s unfolding tonight.
JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN (via telephone): Well, I think it is not unprecedented, but it is highly unusual. If you look at, as many conservatives like to do, if you look at the original intent of the creation of the constitutional power of the president to issue pardons, Alexander Hamilton described in "The Federalist Papers" that it was there largely as a means for a president to restore order after some domestic disturbance.
The first great use of it was under George Washington, after the whiskey rebellion out in Pennsylvania that had been a very serious domestic insurrection. He used the pardon power to try to heal the country. Andrew Johnson, in reconstruction, issued a pardon to those who had taken up arms against the country during the Civil War. I`d argue that President Ford`s September 1974 highly politically costly pardon of President Nixon was an attempt to heal the country.
This is an attempt to secure a base, to pardon this sheriff for the charges for which he was convicted does not seem to me on the surface to be about sending a signal that the country will move forward, quite the opposite. It strikes me as an effort to say to a besieged Trump base that I`ll take care of you.
MELBER: Wow. And you put it so historically, the Ford example being, as you say, controversial, and yet just about everyone knows it hurt Ford. It was done -- go ahead.
MEACHAM: The single most dramatic drop in an approval rating in the history of the Gallup poll. Gerald Ford was cruising through August, he became president on the 9th of August, he chose a Sunday morning in September, in a highly interesting speech, I recommend that people go look at it. A lot of it has to do with the power of mercy, of judge not lest we be judged, of needing to move forward.
President Ford was determined to do it after -- I may get the number slightly wrong here, but in one of his first press conferences at the time of great foreign unrest, a time of inflation, something like 25 out of 29 questions were about Richard Nixon. He believed the country should move forward. And it took the country 30 years, more or less, to see that for what it was.
The other example I point out, and it`s much more recent, is George W. Bush, the 43rd president, stood very strongly against Vice President Dick Cheney and many of his close aides in refusing to pardon Scooter Libby, who had been caught up in the Valerie Plame business, an issue that has fallen out of memory amid the Trump tsunami of our time. But he did not believe that the process showed that a pardon was justified. He had every personal and frankly every political reason to issue that pardon.
And he wouldn`t do it, because he thought it was not in keeping with what a president should use this power for. Trump has done the opposite today.
MELBER: And you mentioned that history were George W. Bush would commute that sentence and that was over the strenuous objections of Dick Cheney, a man who had many, many purchases of influence over the White House, and yet it was, as you say, a line -- one more line I think trammeled here, according to precedent, by President Trump tonight.
Presidential historian Jon Meacham, thank you for making time for us.
MEACHAM: Thank you.
MELBER: I want to turn to Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California.
Thank you as well. A busy time for all.
I want to broaden our lens with you and ask about all of this news, the Russia subpoenas, part of the original reason we were going to have you on, but that is something the White House is responding to. Then there are all these things the White House is jamming into the system, this pardon, the ousting of a very prominent and controversial aide, Sebastian Gorka, which we have more on later, and the announcement of the transgender policy.
As a member of Congress, as someone who works with different presidents, your views on all this coming in the midst of the emergency federal response to a hurricane.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, of course, it certainly looks like a dump of a lot of information on a -- at the end of the week, in the midst of a hurricane to try to bury as much of it as possible. And I agree I guess with Bob Bauer`s conclusion that this was an attempt to narrow-cast to his base and hope the rest of the country wasn`t watching what he was doing.
But, of course, we are watching what he`s doing. What he did in terms of the pardon for Arpaio I think is reprehensible. This is someone who violated the law, was conducting his policing in an overtly discriminatory fashion. And the fact that he would essentially promise this pardon at a political rally, that it was a purely political instrument for the president, is I think an abuse of the pardon power. So --
MELBER: Congressman, can I ask you to expound on that? You`re saying, based on what you`ve seen, you think it is an abuse because he used it essentially as a kind of political campaign ploy?
SCHIFF: Absolutely. This is a political tool. He telegraphed it at a rally in front of his supporters.
This isn`t about the interests of justice. This isn`t about rewarding someone or giving them a second chance or acknowledging their other service to the country. This is patently political.
And to the degree there`s any overlap with the Russian investigation, I guess I have a different take than Mr. Bauer. The concern I have is that he`s sending a message to people that may be under investigation by Bob Mueller that I have your back and I`ve got a pardon waiting for you. So, I am concerned about that because obviously this is a president who is not above using the pardon power strictly in his own very narrow personal interest.
MELBER: Well, you`re raising something incredibly disturbing. And it goes back, as you mentioned, to what Bob Bauer had already written about, analyzed prior to this use of the power. You`re saying the very recklessness, the very flouting of the law, the fact that this all was done by President Trump tonight during this hurricane, as people deal with that, and doing it before even the criminal justice process played out with Arpaio, he was facing perhaps up to six months but hadn`t been sentenced yet, you`re saying that very flouting could be deliberate, to send this message to others who are going to be dealing potentially with Bob Mueller`s criminal inquiry?
SCHIFF: You know, certainly the president is more than capable of that. It could be, you know, just about delivering this to the base, some more red meat for the base. You know, what disturbs me but this at so many levels, this caps a week and a half of quite deliberately divisive conduct by the president of the United States. A president is supposed to be a unifying figure that tries to bring the country together to make us a more perfect union.
But instead, this president is determined to divide us in every way, divide us by his transgender policy, divide us with a pardon of Arpaio, divide us by suggesting that white supremacists and neo-Nazis are the equivalent to those who would protest them. At every step of the way, he is affirmatively, it seems, going out of his way to appeal to the prejudices of the American people and try to divide us. That is not the kind of qualities we look for in a commander in chief. And I think it really is tearing at the fabric of the country.
MELBER: Your colleague, Senator Schumer, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, has a new statement out decrying this as supporting a man in Arpaio who was found, again, by an independent process to be discriminating against Latinos based on their race and ethnicity. His concern being this sends a message of comfort or encouragement to other law enforcement to do that, even if they`re found in violation by a judge.
Do you worry about that message? And if so, as a member of Congress, what can you, what will others do about it?
SCHIFF: Well, I do worry about that message that the president is sending. And look, I worked with law enforcement my entire career, beginning as a young prosecutor in Los Angeles. I have tremendous respect for law enforcement. And most are not going to, you know, accept what the president is doing as any encouragement to violate the law. They`re dedicated to upholding the law.
But nonetheless, he is telling the whole country that the rule of law means very little to him, that he will cross his own Justice Department even during the pendency of proceedings, when it`s in his naked political interest. And he`s perfectly OK for even law enforcement officers, officers of the court, to ignore the law when it comes to immigration. Or in the case of people who were loud and outspoken in favor of his campaign.
What an awful message to send the country. And you really appreciate at times like this, what it meant when we had a president in the last administration who was trying all the time to bring us together, to have a president who is, you know, trying to divide us and do such -- and do so in such a blatant fashion.
MELBER: Congressman, before I let you go, can I ask you about the news on Russia tonight?
SCHIFF: Of course.
MELBER: The other big stories here, NBC News confirming the first grand jury subpoenas going out from Bob Mueller to associates of Paul Manafort regarding international business activities and lobbying campaigns including touching on Ukraine. And "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that Mueller is explicitly looking at intelligence showing Russian hackers not only wanted to get material about Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign, which is somewhat known and bad enough, but that the very person, according to "The Wall Street Journal" they were trying to get it to is Mike Flynn, who, of course, was not only removed from the Trump administration but who has publicly said he wants criminal immunities and says he has a, quote, story to tell.
Sometimes Rachel and others will ask you to connect the dots. I feel like the dots are already fairly lined up.
But what you can tell us as your reaction to both those reports tonight?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, I`ll try my best to connect some of the dots. You have the dossier, which makes a variety of allegations. Most people have fixated on the salacious ones.
But the more concerning allegations to me in the dossier were allegations that, you know, people, sources at the Kremlin, were telling Mr. Steele that the Russians had three objectives. They wanted to see who was receptive, who might have a favorable view of Russia that might be receptive to Russian help. And they wanted to gather intelligence. And they wanted to publish compromising information in the service of the other two objectives.
And here you have e-mails around this meeting with Don Trump Jr. That very much fits that description. You have a Porter Smith giving an interview to "The Wall Street Journal" and talking about how he is in contact with Russian hackers, among others, that may have compromising information on Hillary Clinton and he can be a conduit to the campaign through people like Mike Flynn. All of this, you know, they look like pieces of a puzzle that we need to flesh out and see whether they`re connected or whether this is just some awful coincidence.
And you have Bob Mueller doing his job as he should, in a very methodical way, that is looking at whether individuals may have violated the law. There is a certain sequencing to an investigation where you may look at certain people and you may, if the facts warrant, bring charges against certain people, and that builds a case against others down the road.
So, these pieces do fit together. It`s still too early to conclude where they lead. But it certainly warrants a thorough and nonpartisan investigation by Congress and it warrants allowing Bob Mueller to do his job without any interference.
MELBER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you so much.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Ari.
MELBER: We have a lot more here. Joe Arpaio now tweeting his thanks to president tonight during this hurricane: Thank you, Donald Trump, for seeing my conviction for what it is, a political witch hunt by holdovers in the Obama Justice Department.
Joining us now is "New York Times" White House correspondent Glenn Thrush.
Glenn, thank you for making time.
We have a lot unfolding. I want to ask you about a couple of stories, but starting with the latest on Arpaio. What can you tell us about what led up to this decision and how the use of this hurricane, as we`ve been reporting, seems to be the timing choice of the Trump White House?
GLENN THRUSH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES (via telephone): Well, it really is. Talk about your news dump Fridays, right? I mean, look, I was with Joe Arpaio in his office in Phoenix when he was still Maricopa County sheriff last year on his birthday. Arpaio, I was doing a podcast with him, Arpaio was sulking for an hour because Trump hadn`t sent him a birthday message.
These two men have a sort of personal, I guess you could say on some level, a co-dependence. They see the world in a very similar way. And Arpaio, we know all of the issues involving his sort of treatment of prisoners, throwing them out into the desert in 100-degree weather, feeding them minimal meals, making them wear pink underwear, and obviously very zealously pursuing immigrants, both legal and illegal.
But what Arpaio really represents, Ari, is the alpha Trump voter. He is from Pennsylvania. He is 85 years old. He went south as so many snow birds did, white working class people, to kind of move away from what they thought was a change in the Northeast. It`s very important to understand that that`s what he represents.
One other thing, Donald Trump won Arizona by 3.5 or 3.6 percentage points last year. He -- when you factor in third party candidates, they got about 7 percent of the vote. Arizona is moving away from Republicans rather rapidly. So I think you look at the ages of the two protagonists in this particular drama -- Arpaio 85, Trump 71. It tells you a lot about the direction of the Republican Party.
MELBER: You are sharing small and yet telling details that these men, as you say, are not only close, but that the sheriff was upset about not getting that personal birthday greeting. What else can you tell us about what goes beyond the personal? And do you give credence to what we`ve heard from some other really well-placed experts tonight, that this is not just Arizona, this is not just Arpaio, that this is not just being buried under the hurricane and people can assess what kind of leadership that is, but that this is also potentially a message to anyone ensnared in the Russia inquiry about how early and how fast and how lawyerless Donald Trump is prepared to act with the pardon power?
THRUSH: Look, you know, I`ve said this, and I`m not the only one. Donald Trump is going to test all the prerogatives we`ve assumed presidents have. The pardon power particularly. I mean, he`s using it -- he`s using it in a way, in the active arena of American politics, in a way that we haven`t seen since Nixon.
And let me tell you something. The American voter, unless they have changed entirely, really doesn`t like pardon. They don`t like the notion of a president acting extralegally to sort of interrupt the criminal justice process. Even if there`s a perception that the criminal justice process may be politically motivated as there is on the right.
So Trump -- I think one thing we`ve got to be aware of here, Trump is incurring significant political risk by doing this. This is not something -- this is not something people like. And remember, for all the talk of his retaining his base, and really in the last two weeks he has done nothing but dive into his base almost like jumping into a mosh pit off the stage, right?
He essentially has been losing independents in droves. And there has been some erosion even in his base. So, this is a president that we have got to look at all of this, the Gorka departure, Arpaio, in the context of a president very, very much struggling for his political life.
MELBER: Struggling for his political life. I`m going to get to a question on Gorka in a moment. You mentioned. The last question I want to ask you, though, about this, is your estimation of Donald Trump. Because there is a view that is purely cynical and says he does whatever he thinks is in his own narrow self-interest. Again, the backdrop of the hurricane being something that would astound anyone who thought that any president should have a humanitarian bent on a night like this but may not shock others.
And then there`s a different view, that deep down, he actually does not think there is any such thing as rule of law, that is to say, the thing that unite people in both parties historically, Jon Meacham talking about Republican presidents who have taken a different approach, the thing that the founders thought would keep us united to some degree, even through rough times. The idea of nonpartisan rule of law, I mean, what every law student studies, there aren`t R`s and D`s next to the judge`s names, and you learn about how so many Supreme Court decisions are unanimous because no matter who is appointed, it matters that there is a nonpartisan, independent rule of law that this president, Glenn, doesn`t and has never believed in that. And thus for him, these things that might shock even the staff Republicans lining the Justice Department, for him aren`t even shocking because he wouldn`t have thought to do it any other way, which is the same reason, Glenn, that he got up on the debate stage and said Hillary Clinton should be in jail, because she`s my opponent and I`m perfect. And that was his whole understanding and conception of the rule of law.
THRUSH: Well, look, and I say this not as an insult to him, just as a statement of objective fact. He has no appreciation for American history. He is not conversant in it. It`s not something that he has a great deal of knowledge in. People who have known him over the years will tell you he has some blind spots on some basic civics issues. So, he`s not even thinking of it on that continuum, Ari.
And the other thing about it is, this is a guy, remember, his first experience, one of his first professional experiences was being sued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for discrimination against African-American tenants in some of his family`s properties. This is a guy who brags about being able to use the bankruptcy law to his advantage. He is somebody who views the law as a rubber band, that it`s a flexible instrument that an individual who is outside of government can leverage and use in a way that`s most advantageous to themselves personally.
MELBER: And, Glenn, last question.
THRUSH: -- a real estate developer as opposed to being president.
MELBER: Glenn, last question, Sebastian Gorka out of the White House, also as part of this Friday night hurricane news dump, apparently. The White House stating, according to an anonymous official, that he did not resign, a letter circulating on the Internet with his side of the story. What can you tell us?
THRUSH: First of all, Seb Gorka didn`t have security clearance. So, Seb Gorka was a flack, not even a flack to the mainstream press, he was a Breitbart guy. So, Seb Gorka was probably the most overhyped, fairly useless national security figure in our history. He didn`t participate in any major national security decisions.
The president liked to hear him go on TV because he shouted loudly and went after his opponents. Seb Gorka is going to go back and do what Seb Gorka does. And, fundamentally, what it represents is, for the time being anyway, the grownups, namely national security adviser McMaster, Dina Powell, people like that, seem to have gotten the upper hand.
But it`s just Friday, man! Anything can happen next week.
MELBER: It is just Friday. Glenn Thrush from "The New York Times," thank you for making time on this busy Friday night.
I want to read now in our breaking news coverage, this is a response to the pardon of Sheriff Arpaio. This is from a leading Republican from the state of Arizona, Senator Jeff Flake, who has been the target for taunting by President Trump. He has speedy reaction to this news which is breaking, saying: Regarding the Arpaio pardon, I would have preferred the president honor the judicial process and let it take its course.
The implication from the senator there saying basically the president did not honor the process.
Joining me now, Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego, a Democrat who represents Phoenix, Arizona.
Congressman, thank you for making time, and I don`t want to berate this point. But I will say, you and I, any normal time on night like this would probably be discussing the hurricane and disaster preparation. And we`ve been covering it throughout the day and are going to cover it more.
But all of these developments require us to discuss the Arpaio pardon. Your view of the pardon and whether in any way you think it was more than inappropriate but somehow an abuse.
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: Well, to begin with, it`s cowardly. The president, you know, decided to use the cover of a Friday evening, as well as a hurricane, to pardon one of his racist friends. I`ve been fighting Sheriff Joe Arpaio since I was even in politics as an activist.
And let`s be clear, the reason why he is -- was convicted was because of his racial profiling of Americans. Latinos with surnames that were Latino were being pulled over. Veterans, mothers, business owners, were being pulled over randomly and asked for their citizenship. Some of them actually held in jail until they could prove they were citizens.
And that`s actually what ended up creating the situation that got him into the process that he is right now. He actually signed a DOJ agreement saying he would no longer racially profile because he ended up arresting an American citizen and held in jail for a couple of days without any proof of a crime. And then he proceeded to willingly violate that actual agreement for years. And then when the judge actually caught up to him and realized this, he put him through the proceedings he has right now and was convicted.
At this point, he was about to go through his sentencing program, which would have been at most 60 days in jail he would have gotten, according to the guidelines. So, what we see right now is the president using an excuse to pardon somebody, not because of immigration issues, because that`s not what he was convicted for. It`s for racially profiling Americans.
And at the end of the day, why is the president doing this? The president doesn`t care about anybody. This president cares less about Sheriff Joe like any other citizen. It has nothing to do with that.
At the end of the day, he`s just trying to set up, again, and erode the idea of the rule of law so he can end up pardoning other people. He didn`t go through the normal DOJ process for pardoning. He didn`t get the recommendation from the Department of Justice to pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And the reason why he`s doing this because he wants to erode the idea of pardons in general so he can go on and pardon his friends and allies who may have helped him on his campaign.
That`s the most detrimental thing about this. I was with many of these young men and women back in 2006 when we were protesting against Sheriff Joe Arpaio when we know he was racially profiling people, when we know there was abuse going on in his jails. And we believed in the system. We believed that if we either got him out of office through the electoral process and/or went through the judicial process, eventually we would get justice. We did get justice, we voted him out. And then we thought when he got justice when he came through the judicial system.
But then we have Donald Trump who thinks he`s above the law and that all his friends also get to be above the law. And by the way, that is a horrible thing. That is a horrible thing and a horrible message that any American president can send to political people as well as just, you know, in general all Americans, that you can be above the law as long as you are doing something that is, quote unquote, politically popular or if you back the right presidential candidate.
You know, this is just a further proof that the president is basically eroding all the most basic things about our American democracy. We`re binded by the Constitution. It`s the norms and the rule of law that have actually kept us together.
And he`s slowly eroding everything he can. This is one step further and basically eroding the idea of, you know, equal treatment under the law, because at the end of the day, all you have to do is be very popular and hope that the right president gets elected, and the next thing you know, you`ll get your pardon.
And this is just a sad statement. But at the end of the day, it doesn`t surprise me, I`ll be honest. Donald Trump is a racist and he`s pardoning another racist. And this is just par for the course.
MELBER: What do you think the reaction here is going to be in Arizona, given all the divisiveness up to this point?
GALLEGO: Well, to begin with, this wasn`t popular at all with not just Latinos but with most Arizona citizens. And this will only motivate a lot of people that have already been unhappy with Donald Trump. And I`m not just talking about Latinos. There`s a lot of people that now realize that President Trump is out of control. He is literally destroying the basic tenets of our democracy and our stability by going after the rule of law.
The pardon in Arizona was only polling I think at the mid-20s last time. And now that he`s done it, and again, he did it in a very cowardly manner. He didn`t go out and explain himself. He didn`t tweet out like he --
MELBER: Let me jump in, Congressman, and say, as we`ve been reporting, this is significant, he`s doing all this under the cover of a humanitarian crisis that we don`t know its bounds, we don`t know what`s going to happen over the coming days with this slow moving category 4. We know we haven`t had a hurricane of this magnitude in over 12 years. This is the moment he picks.
That leads me to the final question I have for you, then we`ll turn to more of these breaking stories on Russia that are also quite significant. But final question to you, based on the tenor of the way you`re putting this tonight, it makes me ask -- do you think it`s the use of the pardon power that ultimately could undo this presidency?
GALLEGO: Well, I mean, like this presidency is being undone by the president himself. What he unfortunately has done, he has undone the power of the pardon now. He`s lowered it to a base level that any president now, from now on, can use as a precedent to basically, you know, pardon people for political reasons, especially when they`re not even done through their whole judicial proceedings.
For me, you know, this is an abuse of power. It is abuse of power that any president prior to Donald Trump, we would have all been screaming through the roof. But again, he is changing the tone and the temperament to the point where somehow this is going to be considered blase in the next three or four days when he tweets out something else stupid or distracting.
At the end of the day, he has debased the power of the presidency and now the power of the pardon. I don`t think the pardon will ever be considered the same way. And it`s because this president is unworthy of the office that he is actually serving right now.
MELBER: Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego, thank you so much for joining me.
GALLEGO: Thank you for having me.
MELBER: I want to turn to this other story. It is a significant one. In addition to the category 4 hurricane and the presidential pardon of Sheriff Arpaio, moments ago tonight, we also mentioned two of these other breaking developments. Special counsel Mueller and these new maneuverings in the investigation of Trump and Russia.
So, there are two separate reports here I`m going to legally break down on the special counsel. They focus on two different former aides to the president. Former national security adviser Mike Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Late today, "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that Mueller is looking at Flynn`s potential role in Russia collusion, specifically an effort, a Republican effort apparently to get Clinton e- mails from Russian hackers.
So, that is one big development tonight. NBC News has the other one. This involves Paul Manafort. NBC`s Ken Dilanian and Carol Lee and Tom Winter reporting that Mueller has now begun issuing his first grand jury subpoenas that seek testimony from PR executives who worked on an international lobbying campaign headed by Manafort. The stated goal of the lobbying campaign, this was 2012 to 2014, was to build support for Ukraine`s entry into the E.U.
Now, this report is big for a few reasons. But it is also the first public indication that Mueller is now deploying the process of compelling witness testimony before the grand jury. That`s huge. It`s also the latest indication the special counsel has, this increased focus on Manafort.
He is, of course, being investigated for his work for the pro- Russian/Ukrainian political party and offshore banking and real estate transactions and questions about money laundering, and another big procedural bombshell that you will surely remember Rachel`s reporting on, a month after FBI agents conducted that pre-dawn raid on Manafort`s Virginia home seeking tax and banking documents. To date, that is the only public accounting of a home raid in the Russia Mueller investigation.
Now, the Trump White House makes a lot of noise on a lot of topics, as we have been seeing tonight. But these reports show the topic that they often argue should go quietly into the night, the Russia inquiry and its focus on top aides to Donald Trump. Well, that inquiry is picking up steam.
I`m very happy to stay, staying up late for us tonight, is NBC News correspondent Carol Lee, who is one of the reporters breaking that story about these grand jury subpoenas.
Thank you for being here.
CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Thank you for having me. Glad to be here.
MELBER: Walk us through what this new account says and what`s new about it.
LEE: Well, essentially, the newest and most glaring piece is what you walked through, which is that Mueller has now moved into a stage where he`s issuing subpoenas for testimony before the grand jury. He`s done this for documents but not for specific testimony. And what he`s asked for is six public relations firms, executives who work for them, who were involved in this international lobbying effort that Manafort oversaw, and for them to come and testify before the grand jury.
And what he -- you know, the broad piece of this is that he wants -- Mueller wants to know, you know, specifically kind of whether all of Paul Manafort`s international lobbying efforts, particularly those for Russian- backed interests, were on the level, whether they were on the up and up. He wants to know more specifically that that effort that you referred to, which was this campaign that was the stated reason for it was so that Ukraine could enter the European Union, the question is whether that was actually what it was for, and, you know, how the money -- why --
MELBER: Or -- so on the level would be, it really is just that, it`s an international brand building campaign which no one would have any reason to hide.
MELBER: What could not on the level look like?
LEE: Well, I mean, a number of things. It could be that it wasn`t necessarily -- it was used for some other sort of purpose that benefitted Russia or Russian-backed interests in Ukraine. You know, we don`t specifically know, but there are a number of ways -- frankly, if it was anything other than the stated reason, that could be problematic for Paul Manafort.
But what the goal is from the investigators is to figure out, you know, if these PR firms have any -- if the executives have any information about -- you know, that would lead them to figure out whether there was something else.
MELBER: Right. One thing we`ve heard investigators talk about is the innocent theory of the case is that Russia was trying to do all this stuff from the outside in and they might even have caught some people up in these meetings, but it was all Russia driven and they didn`t really find anyone to shake their hand and actually do the conspiracy, right? That`s the innocent theory.
MELBER: The criminal theory of the case, and it`s a scary one, there were people even before 2016 who were basically being converted into Russian assets, that the money trail was a long term campaign to do this and they were essentially injected into the orbit of the Trump campaign to then cut a deal.
LEE: Right. And that`s the question, because this lobbying effort obviously was before the Trump campaign and before Paul Manafort came to -- as chairman of that campaign. But the question is, you know, can you draw some sort of link, if there was something nefarious happening at that time, with that particular campaign, that involved Russia, you know, what happened, what were the connections that were made there, and do any of those connections then somehow become tied to Paul Manafort and his effort on the Trump campaign?
MELBER: Does any of this shed new light on the home raid of Paul Manafort?
LEE: Well, it suggests that -- it could. We don`t really know. I think it suggests that there were some things learned from that, that they`re zeroing in on this particular campaign. Obviously, they`ve already subpoenaed documents from these firms. As you mentioned, it`s a very significant step, suggesting that specifically with regards to Paul Manafort, this is picking up speed.
MELBER: And, finally, Carol, as you and I know from reporting these kind of cases, what happens inside a well-functioning grand jury is totally secret. What happens outside tends to keep leaking. Do you have an indication that more subpoenas will leak?
LEE: Yes. I mean, that`s I think what everyone expects, that there will be more subpoenas and that is, you know, you described it accurately, that`s where things tend to leak, no one is bound to talk about the fact that they`re being subpoenaed. And so, once they start issuing those, that`s how reporters like us get wind of it.
MELBER: Yes. Well, you know, Rachel often has on people from all the places driving and breaking these stories, a lot in the -- "The Journal," "The Post," "The New York Times." I know that you, Ken Dilanian and Tom Winter were obviously among the ones driving it today, the big story. Thanks for making time to talk about it.
LEE: Sure, any time. Thank you.
MELBER: I want to turn to Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan, i.e., a federal prosecutor, who has worked with these kind of grand juries.
Thank you for making time tonight.
BARBARA MCQUADEE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Oh, you bet, Ari.
MELBER: I don`t have a big question for you other than, what do you think of this news?
MCQUADE: Well, I think it`s an interesting combination of news stories today, because we have on the one hand, Robert Mueller who is very methodically working on his investigation, going after Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, which is a very common strategy. Go after the lower level offenders, flip them, offer them leniency in change for truthful testimony to cooperate against higher level offenders. But at the same time, we have seen this extraordinary pardon of Sheriff Arpaio.
Maybe they get the message that, you know what, I can get leniency anyway even without cooperating, I don`t need to cooperate in order to get that inducement at the end of the rainbow, I`m going to get that from President Trump. So, in many ways this may be disrupting the very method that Robert Mueller and prosecutors have used for decades.
MELBER: That is a harrowing thought. If that`s true, is that inappropriate?
MCQUADE: Oh, I -- you know, I don`t know. I think it is incredibly inappropriate to say I`m going to dangle this pardon out there, if you provide information that suits my purposes, the president, as opposed to the quest for the truth, which is what the Justice Department is all about. So I think it`s a very chilling development.
MELBER: What can Bob Mueller do about it?
MCQUADE: I don`t know that there`s much he can do about it. I suppose if there are overt promises for a pardon, that would be further evidence of obstruction of justice. So I think that his obstruction investigation will proceed. And if there are either overt or implicit promises of leniency in exchange for helping out the president or his team in any of this, that would be further evidence of obstruction of justice.
MELBER: Is there a scenario where the Bob Mueller argument becomes, yes, you may be getting cover or offered cover, but no, as a matter of historical fact, Donald Trump will not be president forever. Many of the people, as you know and some of your colleagues in the federal circuits have discussed, many of the people who ultimately went to jail in Watergate went to jail in a different administration later.
MCQUADE: Well, certainly that could happen. They could be prosecuted down the road. Most of these statutes carry with them a five-year statute of limitations, which would be beyond the four-year term of a president. One thing that`s really interesting is, a pardon can even come before someone is charged with a crime. For example, President Ford pardoned President Nixon before he was charged with a crime outside of the impeachment context.
And so, there`s really no limit on the president`s power to pardon. He could pardon proactively, even before charges come against Manafort or Michael Flynn. And so in that way, I worry that Robert Mueller and his team could lose the leverage they would ordinarily have in such a case.
MELBER: And that brings me to the final question, Barbara. You mentioned no limit, and that`s true, right? I mean, under the Constitution, as you say, there`s no time limit, it can come very early in the process. That`s not typically how presidents have done it because they work with the Justice Department and the White House counsel and they`ve done it differently. But that`s one of the many practices that this president is breaking tonight with this mid-hurricane pardon.
But the other parts of the is the abuse question that I want to get your final thoughts on, because I was talking about Bob Bauer at the top of the show. The fact that it`s an absolute power doesn`t mean that it`s without abuse. An example being a governor who auctions off or sells pardons, right, is taking an absolute power and finding a way to abuse it and there are corruption and other statutes to deal with that.
Given that obstruction was one of the House Judiciary issues in both the Clinton and Nixon cases, is the abuse of the pardon power something in your view that can amount to potential obstruction?
MCQUADE: I think so. If you use that pardon power, which is absolute except in matters of impeachment, but if you use that pardon power in exchange for interfering with an investigation, lying, perjury, obstruction, I think that could be grounds for obstruction charges. And something I think the Mueller team will want to look at.
MELBER: Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney for the eastern district and MSNBC analyst -- thank you.
MCQUADE: Thanks very much, Ari.
MELBER: Amidst all this breaking news from the White House tonight, we have been throughout the evening and we`ll be later on this evening in our live coverage keeping a close eye on the massive storm that is bearing down on the Texas coast. The president declaring a state of emergency for the entire state of Texas.
Hurricane Harvey now a category 4 storm, winds hitting 130 miles per hour. Many people in coastal communities now evacuated.
The city of Houston has told residents to stay put and shelter in place. The real danger for Houston could come in the next several days, as the storm dumps dozens of inches of rain and causes what the National Hurricane Center predicts will be, quote, catastrophic flooding.
Joining me now is meteorologist Bill Karins.
Where is Harvey now and what do we expect?
BILL KARINS, MSNBC METEOROLOGIST: We are very close to that official landfall from the National Hurricane Center. We are watching a 130 mile per hour winds, category 4, as we advertised.
We are so fortunate this is not over a major city making landfall. This is over a sparsely populated area. There are some small towns in there that will be devastated. A lot of the population of those are 10,000 or less. So, those are the people you have to feel for, they`ve had to evacuate and they`re watching the destruction of their little town. So, that will be the story come tomorrow when we can get in there and look at this.
Now, the live radar shows you the center line about to come onshore. The northern eyewall has moved onshore. Hurricane chasers out here in Rockport are reporting winds up to 120 miles per hour. Power is flickering on and off and going off in many areas in the vicinity here.
Corpus Christi, we were thankfully spared the worst of it. Corpus Christi has missed the eyewall. So, the population of Chris Christie, 300,000 people. All of those did get out of the way but they don`t want their homes destroyed. They`ve avoided that with the winds.
There`s many different aspects to this storm. But as far as the very intense winds go, Corpus Christi has been on the back side. Their winds are in the 40 to 80 miles per hour range. That makes a big difference between that and 100 to 120 as far destroying your property and destroying a lot of the structures.
Let me go back over here. I want to show you. This is a closer, up zoom view. I mentioned some of those small towns that are in the worst of it. Port Arkansas and Rockport are right in the heart of the eyewall right now, that`s where we`re seeing the destruction beginning to take place. This up here, there`s no cities listed here because that`s unpopulated seashore. That`s where the worst of the storm surge is and the highest winds. So, that`s good, we`re not dealing with that.
Here`s some of the latest wind gust reports. I mentioned the Corpus Christi area and the 40-mile-per-hour range, Victoria, you`ll start to notice power outages. That`s going to be a rough night up there and as we go through the night into tomorrow we continue with those high wind gusts.
As we get the official landfall probably sometime maybe in the next two hours, maybe three hours, and then we`ll watch the storm slowly begin to weaken. When I say slowly, Ari, this thing is going to move inland as about 4 miles per hour all night tonight. That`s as fast as you and I probably walk. So this is going to be a long duration event with the rain after we`re done with the wind tonight.
MELBER: Right, we`ve heard that can affect the devastation as well.
MSNBC meteorologist Bill Karins, a long night for you and a lot of people in the path of the storm. Thank you. Our special live coverage continues at 10:00 p.m.
Joining us now is Asawin Suebsaeng. He`s a politics reporter from "The Daily Beast," who has been tracking the Sebastian Gorka story.
Very significant to a lot of people that this person with so many controversial affiliations is out of the Trump White House. What can you tell us?
ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, DAILY BEAST: Well, I can tell you that the White House this evening is going out of its way, at the senior levels, to tell reporters and to tell the public that Sebastian Gorka did not resign. But they can confirm that he is no longer at the White House.
Several senior administration officials I`ve been messaging tonight simply told me things like, Gorka`s gone, Gorka`s out, Gorka was forced out.
So, it seems that the good Dr. Gorka is attempting to do a kind of, you can`t fire me, I quit this evening, or the White House is lying its teeth off about the fate of Sebastian Gorka. One of the two is correct and only one of them can be.
MELBER: I appreciate the logical line you`re drawing. Why do you think this president, who got famous pretending to fire people on a reality show, has such a difficult time closing the deal if he did it anything like his famous catch phrase in any public setting or had a clear and orderly process, there wouldn`t be these constant recriminations, every Friday night they force someone out.
SUEBSAENG: Well, that`s just Trump`s style. I mean, it`s a cliche almost at this point to note that the president does not enjoy firing people. He prefers other people, when he`s not in the context of reality TV, to do his dirty work for him.
And in this case, as I reported at "The Daily Beast" a week ago to the day today, Sebastian Gorka`s fate was extremely uncertain right after the ouster of Steve Bannon. Gorka worked until Bannon was forced out of the White House a week ago today as basically one of Steve Bannon`s aides in the West Wing. There were a bunch of people in the administration and top ranks in the White House who thought Gorka was a joke and wanted him and his baggage and his controversies gone, thought he wasn`t actually doing much.
Sources told us at "The Daily Beast" that newly-installed Chief of Staff Kelly, while he was reviewing everybody`s position in the White House, did not actually know what Gorka did except go on TV sometimes.
MELBER: Asawin Suebsaeng from "The Daily Beast", thank you for joining us.
SUEBSAENG: Thank you so much.
MELBER: That does it for THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW tonight. Rachel will be back Monday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
You can find me, Ari Melber, at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on weeknights.
As we turn from the Arpaio pardon to the Russia news to the official transgender ban being rolled out, it has been an easily very busy night of coverage. I want to turn now to Brian Williams who picks up our live special coverage for the rest of the evening.
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