Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 19, 2017 Time: 21:00 Guest: Dudley Althaus
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
There`s really a lot to keep up with tonight. So, I`m very glad you`re here to do that with us.
First, of course, we have been watching today with great dismay as we just got in this increasingly terrible footage out of Mexico City from the large earthquake that Mexico sustained there today in the mid-afternoon. The death toll from this quake in Mexico City is already over 100. And we could tell early on from the first footage that we got in that that toll would expect to -- we would expect that toll to rise.
We knew that was likely once we started to get in footage, lots of civilian footage of buildings collapsing in Mexico City, and more broadly in central Mexico. Thirty-two years ago, today, Mexico City sustained an even larger quake that caused thousands of buildings to collapse that killed as many as 10,000 people. As eerie as it is that what happened today fell on the exact anniversary of the terrible 1985 quake, today`s damage will not end up being as severe as what they went through in `85, but what happened today is very, very bad.
As I said, death toll already over a hundred, many collapsed buildings, rescue efforts continuing as I speak tonight. We`re going to have more on the situation, including a live report from Mexico City in just a moment.
In the Caribbean, meanwhile, what is potentially an even larger natural disaster continues to unfold also as I speak. This is Hurricane Maria, a concentrated, rapidly developing, extremely dangerous category 5 hurricane. It follows almost immediately on the heels of hurricane Irma, which was also category 5. When Irma careened through the Caribbean Islands just two weeks ago, people on some of the hardest hit islands ended up being evacuated to some of the lesser affected islands in the region. Those lesser affected islands then also served as staging grounds for ongoing relief efforts post-Irma.
The islands to which people and supplies were relocated post-Irma, those islands themselves are now looking into the eye of destruction from this subsequent Hurricane Maria. It`s just unbelievably tragic and coincidental apparently that it has fallen in this way. But the island of Guadeloupe was a relief staging area and an evacuation landing zone for people on the devastated island of St. Maarten. Well, Guadeloupe has now itself sustained significant damage from Hurricane Maria.
The island of St. Croix was relatively unscathed in the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Croix therefore became a shelter for people from the more heavily damaged islands of St. Thomas and St. John. Well, St. Croix is now expected to get hit by Hurricane Maria overnight tonight.
The pattern also holds true for Puerto Rico which did much better than was feared during hurricane Irma. And Puerto Rico therefore took in many people in need of refuge after Irma and also became a staging ground for relief efforts. Well, Puerto Rico is on track tomorrow morning to get this new storm, Hurricane Maria, slamming ashore as a category 5 or high-end category 4 storm.
No storm like that has hit Puerto Rico since the 1930s. So, this is a big serious situation for a lot of Americans tonight, in the beleaguered U.S. Virgin Islands and in Puerto Rico. It`s also a big scary situation among their neighbors in the Caribbean, in this resilient and beautiful but now absolutely reeling part of the world.
There`s nobody better at explaining this stuff than Bill Karins and Bill will join us in just a moment to walk us through what we should expect tonight and tomorrow.
Beyond those two huge and concurrent natural disasters that are still developing stories tonight, there`s also just a whole lot of other news going on in the world right now, including what is looking like a very threatening effort by Republican senators to try once again to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
You just heard Senator Cory Booker in the last hour with Chris Hayes, telling Chris that he believes that the Republicans look like they are putting together the 50 votes plus the vote from Vice President Pence that they would need to finally do this. They`re pursuing this effort in a rush for a variety of reasons. In part, that means there`s no official estimate of what the costs would be of this plan.
But for their earlier efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, we know that the estimates for that they`d be causing tens of millions of Americans to lose all health insurance coverage. They really are rushing this through right now. It is not at all clear that Democrats and a few Republicans will be able to stop them again like they did earlier this summer, so that continues to be a developing story into this evening. We`ll be getting an update on that this hour as well.
And all of that, with all of those other things going on, the news also just continues to break on the existential scandal that threatens this new presidency, as well as members of the new administration and multiple members of the president`s campaign. This was President Trump speaking today at the United Nations, which itself was a spectacle like we have not seen from another American president ever. We`ll be talking with Andrea Mitchell about that in just a few minutes.
But while that speech by the president was happening at the United Nations today, simultaneously, at that moment, the president`s longtime personal lawyer and a longtime Trump Organization executive named Mike Cohen, while the president was speaking at the U.N., Michael Cohen at that moment was flunking out of his testimony before the Senate intelligence committee today.
Michael Cohen`s lawyers had apparently agreed with the committee that he would appear voluntarily and behind closed doors. They reportedly agreed that neither Mr. Cohen nor the committee would make any public remarks today about his testimony, but then Michael Cohen broke the deal. They gave a copy of what he said was his testimony to a bunch of reporters and when the committee found that out, they threw him out. Deal broken.
So, yes, no more testifying behind closed doors now they will be bringing Michael Cohen back in open session in an open televised hearing on October 25th. Now, as that news was breaking today, "Reuters" was first to report that for the first time in modern political history, a sitting president is using campaign funds and funds donated at the Republican Party to pay for his own legal defense, in the Russia matter, in this criminal and counterintelligence probe that`s being led by the former FBI director and now special counsel Robert Mueller.
Do you know anybody who bought a make America great again hat or bumper sticker or some mean thing about wishing violence on Hillary Clinton that was an official project of the Trump reelection campaign? Well, if you know anybody who bought merchandise like that or otherwise gave money to the Trump pre-election campaign, we now know what those dollars actually went to pay for. They went to pay for the president`s legal fees.
I mean, it`s an unusual thing, right? I mean, other presidents haven`t done this. So that`s unusual enough. But for this guy, in particular, for a president who built his public and political persona on being so rich, it is a fairly stunning turn of events that instead of paying his own legal bills, he`s getting regular people around the country who thought they were making political contributions to instead pay his personal bills for his legal-defense.
At least now we know why he formally legally established his reelection campaign on the very first day of his presidency. The formation of that campaign gave him a vehicle to raise funds from regular people around the country that he apparently quickly started diverting from any actual reelection campaign to instead paying his lawyers on the Russia thing, and also paying his family`s lawyers on the Russia thing.
We learned in July that the Trump re-election campaign had spent $50,000, $50,000 that they got from campaign donations on the services of a personal lawyer for Donald Trump Jr. That payment incidentally preceded any public disclosure of the news that Donald Trump Jr. had attended that meeting with Russian operatives at Trump Tower during the campaign because he was interested in the Russians` promise that their government had damaging information on Hillary Clinton which the Russians wanted to convey to the Trump campaign. Before we learned about him attending that meeting, apparently, the Trump reelection campaign had already cut a $50,000 check to a personal lawyer for Donald Trump Jr. A personal lawyer who now continues to represent the present son on issues related to the Russia scandal.
Well, now, tonight "The Wall Street Journal" reports that after the president`s reelection campaign spent $50,000 on Donald Jr.`s lawyer in June, thereafter, the Republican Party also spent another $196,000 on Russia lawyers for Donald Trump Jr.
Now, tonight, NBC News confirms that it goes beyond the spending on the president`s son and his lawyers. The Republican national committee will apparently report tomorrow that as of last month, the Republican National Committee, the RNC, has already spent over thousand dollars that they connected collected from Republican donors on the president`s own legal defense in the Russia scandal. This is -- this is legal but no president has ever tried to do this before let alone a billionaire.
As "Reuters" puts it today, quote, Trump is the first U.S. president in the modern campaign finance era to use such funds to cover the costs of responding to a criminal probe. And this unprecedented news about using Republican Party funds and using re-election campaign funds to fund his legal defense. This, of course, follows the bombshell news from last night that the president`s campaign chairman has been told by prosecutors that they plan to indict him.
That news from "The New York Times" last night followed close on the heels of news from CNN that the president`s campaign chairman was twice in the last few years made the target of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant, a FISA warrant, which is the kind of warrant you can only get from a FISA court judge for an American citizen if the judge believes that the American citizen in question is knowingly acting as the agent of a foreign power.
I need to mention that NBC News has not confirmed that CNN reporting about the FISA warrants for Paul Manafort, but if it`s true, it`s also important to recognize that that warrant reportedly includes a time period when the president himself was continuing to talk to his campaign chairman, even after the inauguration, despite the president stating publicly that he hadn`t talked to Paul Manafort in a long time and him insisting that Paul Manafort had only been involved with the campaign for a short time. Apparently, they were still talking to each other after the inauguration at a time when reportedly Paul Manafort was having his communications surveilled because he was the target of a FISA warrant, because a judge had been convinced that he was a knowing agent of a foreign power.
Now, we don`t know if the president himself turns up on their surveillance intercepts, the FBI reportedly made of Paul Manafort this year. But given the reported timing. That does appear to be a possibility.
Remember when James Comey said, Lordy, I hope there are tapes? Lordy, there might be tapes.
So, like I said at the top, there`s a lot going on. We`ve actually got expert help on tap tonight to get us through the news about the president`s legal defense and his campaign chairman facing indictment and his personal lawyer blowing up at his aborted testimony in the Senate today. We`re going to have some expert advice and understanding that today.
We`ve also got expert help on tap tonight to help us understand why even veteran Trump watchers were flabbergasted by the president at the U.N. today.
But I want to start first tonight by bringing in somebody in Mexico City. The death toll is rising tonight in Mexico City. It`s now up to at least a hundred and nineteen people who have been killed in this earthquake. That number is expected to rise the epicenter of this quake -- it`s a 7.1 quake -- it wasn`t far from the town of Raboso, which is about miles south of Mexico City.
Mexico City, of course, is home to 22 million people, the most populous city on the continent. And tonight, Mexico City is hurting.
Joining us now from Mexico City is "Wall Street Journal" reporter, Dudley Althaus.
Mr. Althaus, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate your time tonight, sir.
DUDLEY ALTHAUS, REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL (via telephone): Sure. Hello.
MADDOW: First, can you tell me how long you`ve lived in Mexico City, how well you know the city and what you experienced today during the quake?
ALTHAUS: Well, I`ve been living in Mexico City almost 30 years. The quake came about 1:15 in the afternoon, just a little over two hours after we had an earthquake kind of drill that they do every year to commemorate the anniversary of the 1985 earthquake. This quake hit exactly 32 years and about six hours to the day after the 1985 earthquake, which killed at least 6,000 people in Mexico City.
MADDOW: Since the 1985 quake, I know that building standards changed in Mexico. The type of drill that you were describing today which they hold annually is obviously an important form of earthquake preparedness. How well did the city hold up in this large quake? Obviously, we saw this terrifying pictures today of buildings collapsing.
What`s your assessment of how bad the damage is? How many buildings are down? And just how big an area -- how big an affected area we`re talking about?
ALTHAUS: There`s some about four dozen buildings that are down, but the buildings have fell, a lot of them were apartment buildings that just pancaked, and the hope is that -- they`re talking about something like 36 people now confirmed that in Mexico City. We hope that doesn`t rise too much, but you would assume it`s going to have to.
The danger is, whether people, because they would just done the drill and out two hours ahead before that, that they got out of the building`s fast. But there are people missing in a lot of places.
These buildings just pancake. There`s six five, six-storey high buildings that just -- apartment buildings full of apartments that just went straight down, and the damage is pretty much concentrated -- it`s kind of over the city, but it`s pretty much concentrated, the worst of it in exactly the areas where the `85 quake hit worst.
Mexico City`s built on an old lake bed that is actually like a bowl of gelatin. So, when we get these quakes that that section of the city kind of from the center and a good portion of the city just really shakes very hard. And this was a -- this was a bad one.
MADDOW: Dudley Althaus, Mexico City reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" and I know it`s been a very tough day, thank you for -- thank you for joining us tonight. I appreciate it.
ALTHAUS: No problem, thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
So, as this natural disaster absolutely rocks Mexico City and rescue efforts there are starting to hit their stride, just heartbreaking pictures of the rescue efforts not just with first responders but also just regular people joining in to try to protect anybody who might have been saved but buried, while we are looking at that in Mexico City, we`re also watching disaster loom in Puerto Rico specifically and in the Caribbean more broadly. And that, yes, includes the parts of the Caribbean that were just hit so hard by Hurricane Irma, as Hurricane Maria bears down on the Caribbean.
We`re joined now by NBC meteorologist Bill Karins.
Bill, thank you for being here tonight. What can you tell us tonight?
BILL KARINS, NBC NewS METEOROLOGIST: Well, we all have hurricane fatigue, right?
KARINS: I mean, Harvey, Irma, Jose, but the message is a dire with this storm as it was for any of them and maybe even worse, this is now the tenth strongest storm we`ve ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, and it`s heading for about 3.5 million people on the island of Puerto Rico. We`re about 12 hours away from what should be and what I expect to be one of the worst hurricane disasters that we`ve ever seen. I don`t say that lightly.
I mean, we`re talking about a storm with 175 mile-per-hour winds, that it`s gonna be heading right over St. Croix, close to it in a couple hours from now and then about 8:00 a.m. making landfall in Puerto Rico. It looks unavoidable. It doesn`t look like there`s an escape path where we can miss Puerto Rico. So, here`s St. Croix and you can see the well-defined eye. If they got a pinhole eye, small, the 175 mile-per-hour winds are only right in this circle. That is where the devastation is going to occur and there`s still a little mystery of where that travels over Puerto Rico. Would that go over San Juan, the highly populated areas on the northeast coast we`re about 1 million people? Will it go over central Puerto Rico, still do devastation but less people live there?
No one`s going to win out of this. It`s gonna be extremely destructive. It just depends on exactly where it goes, and I want to advise everyone in St. Croix right now, you`re starting to get into those hurricane-force winds, and now we`re only about 40 miles, 35 miles from that eye. It`s time to get to your safe room because you`re going to be in that for about six to eight hours tonight, and very close to that I.
And here`s the timeline. There`s 2:00 a.m. and then going over about 8:00 a.m. landfall Puerto Rico, we still could go to the right of this cone, which would target San Juan the most or to the south coast, still it needed term and where the worst of is going to be. Everyone with interests though and like St. Thomas, it`s a little bit better for them.
But I just cannot -- I`ve never seen a storm this strong, targeting a population center like -- you showed the pictures at the top of the show of Barbuda. It was -- less than 2,000 people lived there.
KARINS: This is 3.5 million, and this is almost as strong as what Irma was. I`m a very afraid. I mean, I hope that you have a lot of important people that listen to this show, I hope that all the relief agencies -- I hope that people that are in control of the military, the Coast Guard, they`re going to need a massive response immediately after the storm to save lives. I hope that planning is going on right now.
MADDOW: It`s daunting especially when you heard about so much of the relief supplies and humanitarian relief efforts post-Irma being held up because of this the prospect of them getting in after this with so much already damaged, the very scary stuff.
Bill Karins, thank you.
MADDOW: Thanks. Appreciate it.
All right. Lots more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This was apparently a big mistake today. This footage shows a Russian military helicopter shooting at someone. See the guy in the foreground there. They`re shooting at someone who was -- it was not supposed to be shooting at. See that guy?
The dude apparently survived this, but reports are sketchy this happened in the middle of a gigantic military exercise that Russia has been doing for the past few days in the nation of Belarus. Now, Russia denies there`s anything wrong with that mistargeting of a bystander in there exercises. They also deny that there`s anything intimidating or unusual about these exercises themselves.
I have to tell you, Russia has also been lying about the size of these military exercises, apparently to try to keep Western military observers from being allowed in to see what they`ve been doing. What Russia has been doing over the past few days is believed to be the largest Russian military exercise since the end of the Cold War.
And aside from the side effect of Russian troops apparently accidentally firing on random locals and civilians who showed up to watch, the other reason Russia`s neighbors are unsettled by these exercises is because it was only three years ago that Russia invaded a neighboring country and took over part of it. When Russia invaded its neighbor Ukraine and took over a part of it, took over Crimea in 2014, Russia proceeded that invasion with a big military exercise at the edge of Ukraine, which gave Russia and an excuse to mass a whole bunch of Russian troops there and a lot of military equipment as well.
After Russia invaded Ukraine and took Crimea, the U.S. and a whole bunch of other countries in the West responded with serious sanctions against Russia. That bank that secretly met with Jared Kushner during the presidential transition sanctioned. That other Russian bank that was reportedly lined up to finance Trump Tower Moscow, also sanctioned. The Russian energy company that was trying to do an oil deal with ExxonMobil that was so big Putin gave Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson Russia`s highest civilian medal in thanks for doing the deal, that Russian company is now sanctioned, which screwed up that big deal with Exxon. The sanctions on Russia are a really, really big pain for Russia and getting rid of them is a huge priority for Russia.
Well, in January, President Trump`s personal lawyer, a longtime executive at the Trump organization, he took a meeting in a hotel lobby in New York City with a few different people, including a pro-Putin politician from Ukraine, and the result of that meeting in New York was a written proposal for the U.S. government to not only make the sanctions on Russia go away, but to tie that up with a bow on top as well.
The plan had three parts. Number one, the president of Ukraine would be thrown out of office. He`s the president who replaced the pro-Putin kleptocratic dictator who Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort used to work for. The guy who replaced him would himself be thrown out.
Number two, Russia would get to keep the parts of Ukraine that they took when they invaded Ukraine. That feels better.
And then part three of the plan would be that the U.S. would drop our sanctions against Russia, which we lobbied against them for invading Ukraine and taking over part of that country.
So, that would be quite a deal, right? Putin would get A, what he wants, and B, what he wants. And in exchange for that, he`d get C, more of what he wants. Get rid of a president he doesn`t like, get to keep the stuff he stole and stop paying the price for it. Nice deal.
The details of this awesome deal were reportedly written up, put into a sealed envelope, which President Trump`s personal lawyer Michael Cohen then hand-delivered to the White House. Quoting from "The New York Times", a week before Mike Flynn resigned this trunk national security advisor a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia. Michael Cohen said he left that proposal in the sealed envelope in General Flynn`s office during a visit to the White House. Mr. Cohen said he was waiting for a response from Flynn when Flynn was fired from his post.
After giving that whole account to "The New York Times" about what happened to that Ukrainian plan that would be so awesome for Putin, Michael Cohen then subsequently spoke to a different newspaper about it. He spoke to "The Washington Post", except to them, he told a totally different story. When he spoke to "The Washington Post" about this, he denied the part about putting that plan in a sealed envelope and hand-delivering it to Michael Flynn at the White House.
Quoting from "The Post": Michael Cohen speaking with "The Post" acknowledged that the New York meeting took place and that he had left with the proposal in hand, but he says he did not take the envelope to the White House and he says he did not discuss it with anyone. He called suggestions to the contrary fake news.
Quote, I acknowledge that the meeting took place but I emphatically deny discussing this topic of delivering any topics -- excuse me -- delivering any documents to the White House and General Flynn. So, that`s a weird thing, right? This is not he said/she said or he said/he said. This is I said/I said, right?
This is a weird enough situation that one newspaper then had to go interview the other newspaper to try to make sense of it. "The Washington Post" actually contacted "The New York Times" to find out what happened in their interview with Michael Cohen and "The New York Times" told "The Post", yes, Michael Cohen really did that. Quote: Cohen -- Mr. Cohen told "The Times" in no uncertain terms that he delivered the Ukraine proposal to Michael Flynn`s office at the White House.
The problem is, he then told "The Washington Post" in no uncertain terms that he definitely did not deliver that proposal to Mike Flynn`s office at the White House. So, either he did or he didn`t. He has marinated that he did and he has maintained that he didn`t. He was clearly lying to one of those two papers.
Well, today, "The Washington Post" got yet another version of that story from Michael Cohen. Now, Michael Cohen`s version of this story is that he didn`t just not hand-deliver that proposal to Mike Flynn`s office at the White House. Now, he`s got a news story. Now, quote, Cohen insists to "The Post" that he did take an envelope containing the plan from the meeting.
Where did he take it? He took it to his New York City apartment whereupon he threw it away. OK, it was at a little thrash can the hotel, right? A, why? And B, why is this so hard for you to remember?
Michael Cohen has worked for the Trump Organization for years. He was one of the Trump guys trying to make the Trump Tower Moscow thing happen during the campaign. Remember, he was the one who wrote to the Kremlin for help with that deal last year months after Trump started running for president. Michael Cohen is deeply involved in Trump politics and in Trump business, and he`s known for giving different people radically different versions of the same story even when he gives those different versions on the record, on the same day.
Today, before a scheduled appearance at the Senate Intelligence Committee, Michael Cohen gave reporters a statement about his testimony, casting himself and the president as victims of a smear campaign. The committee says that he did this, he handed out this statement even though the committee had told him explicitly that he was not to speak to the press.
After they found out that he had distributed that statement, the committee canceled the closed hearing with Mr. Cohen entirely. Well, first, they made Michael Cohen sit in their office for an hour or so, then they cancelled him. The committee now says they`ll only interview Michael Cohen in an open session.
And that`s interesting for a few different reasons, not least the fact that the special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly been encouraging congressional committees that are investigating Russia that they should do their witness interviews in open session from here on out. That is reportedly because Mueller`s team has not been able to access transcripts of the interviews that have happen behind closed doors because the committees have not been willing to hand them over. So, it`s not going to be a problem with Michael Cohen because that testimony is now going to be in public, October 25th, which should be fascinating.
I do think that we`ve got now a bunch of probably answerable questions on our hands about what`s happening here. On Michael Cohen specifically, I mean, we`ve got a history of mendaciousness, right? If he continues to give multiple conflicting accounts of his actions like he has to the press, is there any real risk for him of being prosecuted for lying to Congress or obstructing justice?
I know there is in theory, but does that kind of thing actually get pushed in this day and age? Is that a real risk?
Also, now that we know that the president`s reelection campaign is paying the Russia scandal legal fees of the president`s son and now that we know that the Republican Party is paying both the legal fees of the president and his son, are there legal considerations for the White House or for the Republican Party in terms of who`s allowed to donate to those funds? As a related matter, to people who thought they were actually donating to the Republican Party or to Trump`s re-election effort, do those donors have a case for getting their money back if they didn`t intend for their money to be spent on Trump family legal fees?
And finally, how serious is this reporting from CNN that the president`s campaign manager was twice the subject of long-running FISA warrants to surveil his communications, and how serious is this reporting from "The New York Times" that prosecutors have told Paul Manafort that he should expect to be indicted?
All open questions, at least for me right now. But all answerable -- and we may get some of those answers, next
MADDOW: On what is already an incredibly busy news night, we now have some new breaking news from "The Wall Street Journal". Tonight`s scoop which came out just a few minutes ago involves deputy attorney general rod Rosenstein who is overseeing the special counsel investigation, "The Wall Street Journal" has just reported in the last few minutes, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been interviewed by the special counsel Bob Mueller.
Quoting from "The Journal", this is the lead of their piece tonight. Special counsel Robert Mueller`s office has interviewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about President Donald Trump`s firing a former FBI Director James Comey. They`re citing people familiar with the investigation.
The interview which occurred in June or July presents the unusual situation of investigators questioning the person who is directly overseeing their investigation. This is an unusual circumstance.
I mean, one of the things the special counsel Bob Mueller is reportedly investigating is whether the firing of FBI Director James Comey was an effort on the part of the president to obstruct justice by trying to interfere with the Russia investigation. The president has publicly admitted that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he fired FBI Director James Comey. Rod Rosenstein was obviously intimately involved in the firing of James Comey since the White House cited his memo about Comey`s behavior to justify the firing.
We have been asking repeatedly over the last several months whether Rod Rosenstein would have to recuse himself from overseeing this part of the investigation since he appears to be a key witness or at least a key part of that investigation. Now, we know from "The Wall Street Journal" that reportedly, according to "The Journal" sources, he was interviewed by the special counsel`s prosecutors about that matter, while he himself continued to oversee their investigation. They think he ordered the prosecutors to interview himself? This is weird, right?
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan.
Barbara, it`s really nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Thanks, Rachel. Glad to be here.
MADDOW: This new news from "The Wall Street Journal", I know you`re just absorbing it, just as we are, that just came in, it strikes me -- it`s before this. It struck me as strange that Rod Rosenstein would be overseeing this investigation when he was an important potential witness to the obstruction of justice part of it. It strikes me as even more weird now, now that we know that this investigation he`s overseeing interviewed him about this matter, how does this strike you?
MCQUADE: I agree with you. I mean, ordinarily, you can`t be both a party to a case and a witness to a case. So, it would be very difficult for him to supervise a case where he is going to be a witness. You would expect him to recuse himself.
But because this happened by the report in June or July, it may be the case that he was interviewed and Robert Mueller takes the position in Rod Rosenstein takes the position that it`s very unlikely that he would be called as a witness at any trial. So, you know, there many people who get interviewed during an investigation, just to close that investigative avenue and you move on to something else.
But in light of what we know about the contradictions that President Trump himself made about first saying that it was the Rosenstein basis with how Comey handled the Clinton email matter, that was the basis for the firing and then contradicted himself and saying to Lester Holt that it was the Russia thing, you would think that Rod Rosenstein would be a key witness.
But I have a lot of confidence in Rod Rosenstein. I know him. He was the U.S. attorney in the Obama administration and in the Bush administration. He is a career professional who knows the rules and I think abides by the rules.
And so, it may be that he and Mueller do not see him as a critical witness down the road.
And -- I mean, I wonder also if it`s possible that they have a lot of witnesses to this particular part of the investigation and they`ve decided that they can proceed without testimony from Rosenstein, because they can simply get testimony from so many other people about it. I mean, I guess there`s no reason for us to speculate on this we`ll find out if and when they ever bring charges in this matter or make a public statement, but this remarkable development.
One of the other developments today, Barbara, is that we have learned that the president and his son have both had the fees for their personal lawyers who are representing them on the Russia matter paid for by the Republican National Committee and by the Trump re-election campaign. Is it clear that that`s a legal use of those funds?
MCQUADE: Well, I think it is. I`m not sure it`s clear -- you know, like so many other things, we find ourselves in these uncharted waters in this administration. It is lawful to use campaign funds to pay legal fees for a campaign. I mean, ordinarily, that`s for things like providing legal advice about federal election laws or disputing a recount those kinds of things.
I`m not aware of a situation where it`s been used to pay for criminal legal fees, but it`s not prohibited. I think this falls into the category of what we as prosecutors would analyze and ultimately conclude is awful, but lawful.
MADDOW: Awful but lawful.
Barbara, I have one more question for you about something involving this Paul Manafort reporting, with him being threatened with an indictment, him being reportedly the subject of a FISA warrant. Can you stay with us for just one moment so I can ask you those questions?
MCQUADE: Yes, you bet.
MADDOW: Great. Barbara McQuade, former federal prosecutor. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Joining us once again is former U.S. attorney, Barbara McQuade.
Ms. McQuade, thank you very much for staying with us. I appreciate it.
MCQUADE: Oh, my pleasure.
MADDOW: So, at about this time last night, we were learning from "The New York Times" that right after the FBI raided Paul Manafort`s house in Virginia in July, prosecutors with a special counsel`s office told him, told Paul Manafort that he should expect to be indicted, that they expected to indict him.
You, of course, were a federal prosecutor until about five minutes ago. Do prosecutors really do that? Do they really tell people expect to get indicted months before they actually do indict them?
MCQUADE: Yes, I don`t know about months before, but yes. And you know, this is being portrayed a little bit as a very heavy-handed and a threat I don`t think that`s how it`s intended.
And also note, it was prosecutors who told him. Not the agent. So, prosecutors wouldn`t have been on the scene at this search warrant and raid. That would have been FBI agents.
So, my guess is what happened is there was a phone call or conversation that occurred later from the prosecutors who talked to his lawyers and said, you should know your status, which is you are a target of a grand jury and we intend to indict you. And so, that is a conversation all often occurs as an opportunity to begin negotiation. So, you know, and what it means is unless you want to come in and talk with us about what you know and cooperate and maybe we`ll change our minds.
So, it`s not uncommon. It`s not really seen as a threat. It is -- I`m providing with notice of your status as a target of a grand jury investigation with the potential to be indicted. Do you want to talk before we go ahead and do that?
MADDOW: Can I ask you one further nutty question out of total ignorance on my part?
MADDOW: Is it possible that Paul Manafort has already been indicted and we don`t know about it?
MCQUADE: It is possible. Frequently, almost always, indictments are filed under seal, and then they are unsealed at the right moment when they want to make an arrest. So, it is possible he`s already been indicted. It`s possible that they`re close to indictment. So, the answer to your question is yes.
MADDOW: Barbara McQuade, former federal prosecutor, current MSNBC contributor, thank you very much as always for your clarity on this stuff. Really, really helpful. Thank you.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: A delegate from the Philippines had got enough to make a speech and in that speech, he railed against the Soviet Union. The Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, responded by telling the presiding officer to, quote, call that toady of American imperialism to order. He then took off his shoe and pounded his shoe on the podium.
I should tell you, there is no actual footage of the shoe pounding but here is obviously irate during that same speech.
That same year, 1960, the president of Cuba got up to give his debut speech at the U.N. and Fidel Castro went on for four and a half freaking hours, four and a half hours, including a special section where he did a long hollering rants about how John F. Kennedy was illiterate.
In 1974, it was the head of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, giving his debut speech to the general assembly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YASSER ARAFAT, FORMER HEAD, PLO (through translator): I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter`s gun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Words of the translator there. Arafat did mean that quite literally. He insisted on wearing a gun in a holster for his first U.N. speech, which is nuts.
But, you know, every year, there`s someone. In 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the American president at the time, George W. Bush was Satan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUGO CHAVEZ, FORMER VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The gentleman to whom I refer as the devil came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly, as the owner of the world.
Yesterday, the devil came here, right here. Right here, and it smells of sulfur still today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Every year, there`s at least one from somewhere.
Today, our president made his first speech before the U.N. General Assembly. He called Kim Jong-un "rocket man". He threatened to, quote, totally destroy North Korea and he said big portions of the world are, in his words, going to hell. He also bragged about his election victory in the stock market.
The president`s chief of staff did not appear to enjoy it and just in case you thought that was just one bad picture here`s another one.
While the president was speaking today, fire alarms literally went off at the State Department in Washington. And when the history of this era in American politics is written that will be written off as poetic license, somebody will think that is made-up, but I`m telling you it really happened. The fire alarms went off at the State Department while he was speaking today at the U.N.
Joining us now is Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and the host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS", weekdays at noon here on MSNBC.
Andrea, thank you for being here.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.
MADDOW: This was an unusual speech for an American president. Does it have any of the hallmarks of unusual speeches by other countries` presidents? Is this a going to go down in the history of weird U.N. speeches?
MITCHELL: It is certainly an unusual speech, a weird speech, rocket man, insulting Kim Jung-on. If you want to try to move towards diplomacy with the North Korean leader, you would think he would not be taunting him perhaps to do something again like have another nuclear test or fire off another missile.
There was a lot of criticism even from some allies, some subtle criticism, implied criticism from Macron, in his speech. We should not be this aggressive towards North Korea.
There`s also criticism of what he said about Iran. He seems to be ready to walk away and tonight Rex Tillerson on FOX News said that this the president wants the Iran deal renegotiated and they have a meeting tomorrow night at 6:30, with all of the players and Rouhani has said very clearly that that will isolate the United States, that America will pay a price if it walks away from the Iran deal.
And certainly, the rest of the world does not want it to be cancelled. Perhaps, they can renegotiate it, but these Iranian said, there`s nothing to renegotiate.
MADDOW: With the president signaling changes this radical, not just to American tradition but also to American -- to ongoing American policy, what is the practical effect of the emptiness at the State Department the -- just the senior ranks the State Department being literally unfilled?
MITCHELL: Well, the fact is that there are very few people. There`s certainly no -- there`s only a handful of confirmed Trump people who have the power, the authority of this administration and its priorities. So, you have some acting assistant secretaries and you have holdovers one or two holdovers from the Obama White House. But they certainly are not going to be taken seriously by foreign diplomats, by embassies, by foreign governments.
I talked to people including heads of state who say that this is inexplicable, the fact that there are so few appointments. The pushback from the State Department is that this administration -- one official actually said to me yesterday, this administration takes more time because it cares so much about ethics, it takes more time to vet these nominees.
MADDOW: And that`s why they have it nominated anybody?
MITCHELL: Well, there are some nominated and in the pipeline, but the fact is, if you talk to you know, Walter Shaub and other people from -- who quit and protest from the office of government ethics, this is hardly, the most ethical, serious vetting administration. Look at Mike Flynn, look at Paul Manafort.
Andrea, you have now seen this happen. This was foretold from the very earliest days of the administration. Even from the transition.
We`ve now see a play out over these months. Do you think -- just as a longtime observer of these things -- that there is any method to this madness? Is this them failing to create diplomatic capacity or is this them destroying American diplomatic capacity on purpose for some other reason?
MITCHELL: I don`t know the reason other than that Rex Tillerson did come in with a mandate to cut fat, and there is fat and bloat anywhere. But this is a rounding error of the State Department budget, the foreign aid budget.
MITCHELL: We`re going to hear from Barack Obama tomorrow for the first time in a Q&A with Bill and Melinda Gates here in New York, talking about foreign aid and development and what can be done privately. But certainly in these questions, one would think that the former president is going to speak out about what`s happened.
Richard Haass from the Council on Foreign Relations said to me yesterday, that this is just basically diplomatic malpractice, in that so few jobs are filled and that there is no diplomatic initiative on North Korea. It`s one thing to you know to talk about the military deterrence, we have to talk about that and that should be a solid position. But you have to couple this rhetoric with real diplomacy and that isn`t been done.
MADDOW: Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and the hardest working woman in news network --
MITCHELL: No, you are.
MADDOW: No, I`m just -- I work slow. You work a lot.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Thanks very much.
MADDOW: Quick update on the story we started the show with tonight. After the 7.1 earthquake just south of Mexico City today, rescue effort are continuing right now, some of this is being done by first responders, as you would expect. But a lot of it is being done by ordinary people, pitching in, trying to find and free anybody they can, who might be trapped in the rubble.
We reported earlier that there were some four dozen buildings flattened in Mexico City. The death toll from this major earthquake was 119 when we started the show. We said it was expected to rise.
As of now, that prediction is coming true. The head of Mexico`s national civil defense agency now says 139 people are known to have died. But again, the rescue efforts continue as we speak in Mexico City, in central Mexico.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow. Time for "the last word with Lawrence O`Donnell." good evening, Lawrence. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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