Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 21, 2017 Guest: Craig Holman, Ron Weich
SEN. Chris MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: And so, the state-based flexibility that they talk about is achieved by robbing money that currently goes to individuals and handing it at a lesser amount to state-based politicians. That`s not a good deal for people in those red states.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Senator Chris Murphy, thank you for your time tonight.
HAYES: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
CHRIS MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
All right. His name was Josh. He was 28 years old at the time. He was a young-looking and he was working in the Treasury Department. And while he had been working in the Treasury Department, it turns out he was keeping a diary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSHUA STEINER, CHIEF OF STAFF TO TREASURY: Several members of this committee have come into my personal diary and if I might, I`d like to make one brief point about it. I started keeping this diary nearly six years ago. I would write in it fairly infrequently. Sometimes every two weeks, other times, six weeks would go by before I made an entry.
I made no effort to check the accuracy of my diary because this was never intended to be a precise narrative or a verbatim account of what took place. It was more than anything a way to reflect on events and draw lessons for my personal and professional experiences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, there he is, 28 years old, testifying to Congress, not because he had done anything particularly suspect or worrying just turns out Congress heard that he had a diary and they decided they wanted to read it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DONALD RIEGLE (D), MICHIGAN: Mr. Steiner, I want to start with you and I want to start with the diary that you kept which I think is an important document that we have before us.
STEINER: Senator, as I said in my opening statement I think I used my diary as an opportunity to reflect back on events, but its primary purpose I think what you try to draw lessons from my personal and professional experiences.
RIEGLE: Now, yes, would you pull the microphone just to --
STEINER: I apologize.
RIEGLE: Mr. Steiner, do you have a copy there of the diary entries that we`re going to focus on here today?
STEINER: Yes, I do.
RIEGLE: All right. You want to get those in front of you.
Let me read you the entries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And then he reads from Josh`s diary.
Joshua Steiner worked for the treasury secretary at the time, Lloyd Bentsen. I worked for him at a tender young age.
And when investigators were looking into the Whitewater scandal of the Clinton era when they found out that young Josh at the Treasury Department had a diary, they not only made him hand over his diary to Congress they summoned him to Congress to talk to him about it. They read him his diary entries during televised hearings and they made visual AIDS summarizing and, look, excerpts from Joshua Steiner`s diary.
They made big placard, visual AIDS, explaining what Josh said dear diary in the winter of 1994 about the long hours he was working in big bad Washington, D.C.
The Whitewater investigation went on forever. Joshua Steiner was not a bad guy in that investigation or in any other way, and he didn`t get in any trouble. But he did end up under oath as a key witness handing over defending describing answering congressional questions about his diary from his time in Washington, and they raked him over the coals about it. At one point, he had to sit there why Senator Al D`Amato screamed at him about, quote, his feeble lame-brained excuses about his diary.
So, that was during the Whitewater scandal back in 1994.
Today, "Axios" reported that White House spokesman Sean Spicer from the Trump administration also kept kind of a diary, at least he kept copious notes in multiple notebooks during his time in the White House. Quote, former colleagues of Sean Spicer tell "Axios" that he filled notebook after notebook during meetings at the Republican National Committee, later at the Trump campaign and then at the White House.
Spicer was so well known for his copious notes that underlings joked about him writing a tell-all. Quote, Sean documented everything.
"Axios" continued, quote, that surprised some officials of previous White Houses who said that because of past investigations, they intentionally took as few notes as possible whenever they worked in the West Wing.
Last night, "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" reported that Robert Mueller special counsel investigation looking into the Trump Russia issue had made 13 different requests for information to the White House. Two of the 13 are very specific demands about Sean Spicer, Sean Spicer- related demands for documents from the White House. Reportedly, the Mueller investigation has asked for documents from the White House concerning Sean Spicer`s comments that he made on May 3rd at the White House, which is when the president was apparently gearing up to fire James Comey.
The Mueller investigation has also asked for White House documentation about comments made by Sean Spicer about the Comey firing on May 9th, which was the day that Comey was in fact fired by the president.
Now that we know a lot more about what the special counsel inquiry has asked to the White House to hand over as part of its investigation, a couple of things are newly clear to us. One is that the Mueller investigation is definitely not only looking at events that just happened during the campaign, they`re also looking at a lot of things that happened while President Trump has been in office as president. And stick a pin in that because that may end up being quite legally important and quite financially important not just for the president but for a lot of people around him.
This new information about the Mueller inquiry has also made clear that there are a lot of people in the White House who should definitely have their own lawyers by now their own lawyers representing them specifically on the Russian matter not least of whom is Sean Spicer. I mean, as far as we know, Sean Spicer has no lawyer representing him on Russia matters, which is remarkable -- which was remarkable enough before we found out that he has copious diaries from his time serving in the White House.
And I know Sean Spicer is no 28-year-old wide-eyed anonymous innocent treasury employee who`s getting chewed by the Senate and winning the sympathy of everybody who watches but there is an emerging clarity here about who in this White House who in Trump world has a shelf, right, who has a defense, and who`s like a turtle pulled out of its shell left to fend for itself?
And in that sense, that emerging clarity about who`s being defended and who`s not, that sort of reflects the character, that window into the character of this part of the Trump administration, how they handle this gigantic scandal in their defense against it. It`s starting to parallel. It`s starting to look like how this administration conducts itself in other matters, right?
So, I mean, how they`re handling this administration scandal is starting to kind of echo how they`re behaving as an administration, like the basic stuff about staffing up the federal government and doing the business of federal agencies. I mean, just as an aside here, take a little snapshot of what we know just from current headlines, just from current news in terms of how they`re behaving as an administration, how they`re handling themselves as a federal government.
Today, Politico.com was first to report that at the Agriculture Department, they`ve just hired a bunch of top-tier, highly paid executive positions. The Trump appointees to those jobs include quote a long-haul trucker, a country-club cabana attendant, and the owner of a scented candle company.
American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request to figure out who was getting all these high-paying jobs in that department, jobs for which are supposed to have at least a college degree. For some of them, you`re supposed to have at least a master`s degree. But instead, they`ve installed in those jobs a kid who was an intern at the RNC, literally that was that person`s last job.
It`s not like oh back in the day I started off as a teenager as an RNC intern, but then I went on to become an incredibly qualified, well-educated agriculture expert who`s now getting a high-level job at the USDA. No, we`re talking direct from RNC intern to high-level USDA senior job.
I mean this is what political scientists called the spoils system, right? They appear to just be randomly handing out fairly high-level subjects specific federal jobs that are supposed to go to experts, but instead they`re just giving them out to anybody who volunteered on the campaign or their sister.
So, like the person in charge of energy efficiency and renewable energy at the Energy Department is a guy who most recently worked in tire sales, retail tire sales.
The assistant to the secretary of the treasury most recently worked as a production assistant at something called That`s Entertainment. I don`t know what That`s Entertainment does, but I doubt it has anything to do with what the Treasury Department does.
The Trump pick to the cabinet secretary, somebody who was reportedly under criminal investigation for corruptly buying and selling stocks while he was taking action in Congress to affect the price of those stocks, he nevertheless was confirmed in the Republican Senate, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is now making news for the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has spent in his brief time in office inexplicably flying around in chartered private jets.
At the EPA, Trump`s appointee to head that agency has diverted enforcement agents from all over the country to stop doing their work and to instead provide him a 24-hour a day, seven-day a week security detail. Scott Pruitt also appears to be using his government travel budget to fly back and forth to his home state of Oklahoma every five minutes because he appears to be laying the groundwork for a run for governor there. You and I in that case would be subsidizing that run for governor every time he takes government transportation to go back home.
Then, there`s the treasury secretary with That`s Entertainment as his top aide. The treasury secretary famously now requested a military plane to take him and his new bride on their European honeymoon vacation. They didn`t end up using a military plane for that purpose, but they did -- he did take his new wife with him on a big government jet to Fort Knox where they, quote, inspected the gold. They then enjoyed watching the eclipse since that trip happens to have provided them a prime viewing opportunity to see the eclipse in totality from Fort Knox.
I mean, this is an administration where the president started describing his private beach club in Florida as the southern White House. And then he doubled the rates for people to join that golf club, that beach club.
Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. are both having campaign donors pay their legal fees, right? They`re both having the Republican National Committee cover their legal fees. Why not?
But you know what? You know who`s not having campaign donors pay their legal fees? Paul Manafort, for example, nor Mike Flynn, right? Mike Flynn`s family turned to Squarespace this week to set up a public facing Web page to appeal for public help to get Mike Flynn some financial assistance to pay his seven lawyers on the Russia` matter.
I mean, Sean Spicer, as far as we know, he doesn`t have a lawyer for the Russia matter, but it`s very clear that he needs one. How will he pay for one once he needs to get one for sure?
Reince Priebus, Hope Hicks, Don McGahn, they`ve all hired Russia` lawyers. Who`s going to pay for them?
Why is the Trump family able to use campaign funds to pay for their lawyers, but none of these other people who worked at the Trump White House are on the campaign? I mean, it`s crazy enough that the White House counsel had to hire his own lawyer to defend himself in the Russia matter.
But Don McGahn is going to need a lot of legal advice. Right now, Don McGahn appears to be right in the center of a lot of things the Mueller investigation has demanded documents about from this White House. He is particularly gonna need good legal advice if that overheard conversation at a steakhouse last week between two of the president`s lawyers, if that bears out and White House counsel Don McGahn really is hiding documents in a safe to try to keep the special counsel Robert Mueller from getting them.
I mean, Don McGahn as White House counsel is going to have a bear of a legal fight on his hands if he tries to resist handing over documents or giving testimony to the Mueller inquiry on the basis of the fact that he`s White House counsel and therefore he shouldn`t have to talk. I mean, that`s an argument you could definitely litigate but he`s not likely to win it and nobody you`d know would like to fund a legal fight like that because it`s going to go to the mattresses.
And how about old Mike Pence, right? Mike Pence, the vice president, has retained a very good, very expensive D.C. lawyer. It`s clear that Mike Pence needs one. He has made multiple false public statements about many of the key matters that appear to be under investigation by the special counsel, including the firing of James Comey at the FBI and the resignation of the national security advisor Mike Flynn.
When Vice President Mike Pence took the unusual step of setting up his political action committee very early in this new administration, it was initially floated that he could use that PAC to raise money for his own legal defense, for his own legal fees. Team Pence apparently changed their minds about that once they started getting press inquiries about it. They now say that Pence`s PAC will not pay for his legal fees. But who will?
Mike Pence isn`t a rich guy. He doesn`t have deep pockets. He doesn`t have like Trump family deep pockets for sure.
Put yourself in my Mike Pence`s shoes here for a second. How does it make sense if you`re Mike Pence that the RNC and the campaign to re-elect the president, right, those two entities are paying the legal fees for the Trump family but they`re not paying the legal fees for you?
Mike Pence next week is going to be doing a fundraiser in Milwaukee, in which he will be raising a lot of money for the campaign to re-elect the president. That means he will be raising money that will be used to pay for Donald Trump Jr.`s legal fees but not his own his own that`s his problem. This scandal, and any potential prosecution`s that derive from it may eventually boil down to very personal decisions by very high-profile people about how much they`re gonna try to sacrifice how much they`re going to sacrifice to try to keep the heat off this president?
I mean if the White House strategy is to try to get through this by the president having campaign donors and regular people pay his and his family`s legal fees, while they pay nothing, but everybody else from the White House in the campaign is expected to get personally bankrupted by those legal fees, and you`re counting on all those people not rolling on you, that seems like -- that seems like a reason to go through and start dotting the I`s and crossing the T`s and dear old diary, because you`re going to be talking about it soon.
I`ll just phrase one last point here given the general griftiness and cashing in nature of this new administration and how they behave not just about the scandal but in general. We started off this week with some great reporting from "The Associated Press" on the mysteriously large amount of money that was raised but not apparently spent on Donald Trump`s presidential inauguration.
As we`ve talked about here on the show before, the picture on the left side of your screen is in fact the biggest inauguration celebration we`ve ever had in this country. That was when Barack Obama was inaugurated for the first time in 2009. The picture on the right side of your screen is the comparatively much smaller inauguration for Donald Trump.
When the Obama inauguration happened in 2009, they blew everybody`s mind with the fact that they raised $50 million to pay for that inauguration, but it turns out they needed to. It ended up being the biggest inauguration ever and that`s how much it cost.
This year, Donald Trump`s inauguration was a fraction of that size, with a fraction of the events organized by the inaugural committee. But they nevertheless raised more than doubled the amount that was raised for the Obama inauguration back in 2009. They raised $107 million for the Trump inauguration, including unlimited corporate donations, $107 million. What happened to that money?
We`ve been asking this sort of since very soon after the inauguration. The administration said that any leftover money from the inauguration would be given to charity. But as "The Associated Press" documented this week, we`re a long way since the inauguration and so far, no money has been handed over to charity. The inaugural committee told "The Associated Press" this week that there has been a third party audit of the inaugural funds and it turns out everything is fine, everything`s present and accounted for.
But according to "The A.P.`s" reporting, nobody seems to actually be able to produce this audit and nobody seems to know anything about this audit, including who supposedly did it, nor is anybody turned up any evidence that that audit actually took place.
Part of the public accounting the Trump inaugural committee has done for what happened all that money is that they said that this concert took up almost a quarter of the money they raised for the entire inauguration. They said this concert that they held ahead of the actual inauguration was a $25 million concert.
For reference, at the Obama inauguration in 2009, they also held a concert that featured pretty much everybody you`ve ever heard of in music. It`s seated 10,000 people and turned out hundreds of thousands of people more to witness it. It was produced to such a high quality that HBO bought the broadcast rights from that concert. And that one from the Obama inauguration cost $5 million.
So, how did Trump`s like baton-twirling country cover band extravaganza cost five times as much? Or maybe it did not, maybe they just need something to say about where all that money went.
Just given the way this administration is behaving around money and their entitlement to public resources, if there is a giant tens of millions of dollars strong slush fund sloshing around inside this administration left over from the inauguration, couldn`t that be used to pay the legal fees of all the various people in Trump world who are now looking it, honestly, many of them multi-million dollar legal fees?
We`ve been wondering about this for a while, looking at that grave need by people in the administration and that unaccounted for pile of money from the very first day of this administration. We`ve been wondering if it`s possible that one of those serpents (ph) could be like it -- could be used to answer that great deficit.
Well, last night, we asked the presidential inaugural committee this question. We asked them, quote, is the money left over from the 50th presidential inaugural committee helping to fund legal fees related to the Russia investigation for anyone in the Trump administration or the Trump family? Will it be used for that? Could it be used for that purpose later?
We asked them last night. We got an answer from the Trump inaugural committee on that. Their answer is: we have no comment.
So, as they say, watch this space.
There`s lots going on tonight, including a newly aggressive effort by Republicans in Congress to apparently try to at least slow down the Russia inquiry. We got the latest both from Mexico City and from Puerto Rico tonight.
Lots going on. Stay with us.
MADDOW: It was ten years ago almost exactly when a U.S. senator from Idaho who is very conservative very vocally anti-gay, he got arrested in a bathroom for lewd conduct with a dude. An undercover cop testified that the senator had basically solicited him for sex underneath the bathroom stall divider, in an airport bathroom in Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was a senator in question and he defended himself by saying he was not gay, never had been, not even for one minute. He explained that he simply had a wide stance when he went to the bathroom.
Senator Craig ended up pleading guilty and paying a fine and ultimately resigning from the Senate.
But the Larry Craig scandal ended with one final indignity for him and it took a long time to spin out. It finally didn`t get resolved until 2014, three years ago, Senator Craig was ordered to pay the U.S. Treasury almost a quarter of a million dollars, because to defend himself in this embarrassing saga, he used his campaign funds. And whenever Larry Craig was doing in that bathroom stall in that airport, it was a lot of things but it was not him running for re-election, right? Nor were his subsequent legal woes campaign-related in the slightest.
You can`t use campaign funds to pay for legal expenses that don`t arise from your campaign. You can`t use campaign funds to pay for legal expenses that arise from the bathroom.
Larry Craig fought that to the bitter end in court, but he lost because that`s a clear line about what you can spend your campaign funds on.
So, here`s my question: Donald Trump Jr. was not a member of the Donald Trump for president campaign. He`s a member of the Donald Trump family. Also, he`s named Donald Trump, but he never had an official role on the campaign. How is it that the president`s reelection campaign is now paying Donald Trump Jr.`s legal fees related to the Russia scandal?
I mean, you could make the case that the Russia scandal is campaign related. I understand that it may very well be that colluding with Russia was part of how they campaign for presidents and how they got elected. So I could concede that this might be a campaign related matter, but Donald Trump Jr. was not on the campaign. Doesn`t that matter in terms of whether or not his legal fees can legally be paid from the campaign to re-elect the president?
Joining us now is somebody who understands what matters in these types of questions. Craig Holman is a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen.
Mr. Holman, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate you being here tonight.
CRAIG HOLMAN, GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS LOBBYIST, PUBLIC CITIZEN ORGANIZATION: Glad to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, a few things have become clear. One is that Robert Mueller appears to not be looking just that President Trump`s actions during the campaign. He appears to be looking at action since he`s been in office, since he`s been president. Is that a relevant distinction in terms of who can legally pay for the president`s legal fees?
HOLMAN: Yes, it is. When it comes to using campaign funds to pay for legal fees, it -- they can be used not just for campaign purposes but also for official duties as a government officer.
HOLMAN: So, in the course of the Russian investigation involves both the campaign and perhaps some sort of scandal or corruption involving governmental duties. So, it`s right smack-dab in the middle there where Donald Trump can use campaign funds to help pay for his legal defense on that.
MADDOW: Now, what about Donald Trump Jr.? We have reporting that Donald Trump Jr. has had his legal fees paid for by both the Republican National Committee and by the president`s reelection campaign. I asked about him in particular, not just to single him out, but because as far as we can tell he had no official role on the campaign? Does that mean that the there`s there is a legal issue or there may be a legal issue with the campaign paying for his lawyers?
HOLMAN: There may indeed be a legal issue and you`re very right to keep asking this question. You know, if Donald Jr. was not involved in the campaign, in which he isn`t, it`s possible that he -- that, you know, as a government adviser to Donald Trump, they were somehow discussing the Russian scandal and the Russian probe. If that`s the case, then the campaign funds could be used.
But, you know, if that is the case it`s almost an admission that that this whole Russian probe is hitting deep into the hearts of the Trump administration. You know, when it comes to using campaign funds which Larry Craig learned for legal defense funds, it`s really important that the candidate or the office holder first request clearance from the federal election commission for the use of those campaign funds because the FEC takes a look at this on a case by case basis. It`s not a uniform approval.
And if the FEC determines that, you know, the Donald Jr. wasn`t really involved in the whole Russian affairs when it comes to the campaign or even governmental affairs, then this would have been an illegal use of campaign funds, and the Trump campaign, as well as the RNC, may well face legal ramifications for that.
MADDOW: Craig, let me ask her about one last piece of this and I -- you know, I`m only interested in this because I`m suspicious of and have questions about an unaccounted for giant pile of money inside this administration.
HOLMAN: Well --
MADDOW: That appears to be left over from the inauguration. We got no commented by the inaugural committee when we asked them if it was possible if any of that money raised from private donors could be used to fund legal defense for any campaign or administration officials.
Legally, do you think that`s possible that they could do that?
HOLMAN: Yes, they can do that. You`re talking about a whole different entity. The inaugural committee is not considered a campaign committee. It`s not an official government fund. It actually is a nonprofit organization.
And there are no rules on how an inaugural committee spends that money. They don`t even have to disclose what they`re doing to the money, which is what you`ve been talking about here.
The only rule when it comes to inaugural funds is that the source of funds has to be disclosed after the inauguration. But how that money gets spent is anyone`s guess. No rules, no regulations. It can, you know, quite frankly, it could even go into the pocket of Donald Trump if he chose to do so.
HOLMAN: Yes. It`s a Wild West area.
MADDOW: That is -- that`s -- I did not understand that before talking to you about that tonight. Thank you for helping us understand that. Now, I have lots more questions about that money, its size and where it`s headed.
Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, mind-blowing. Thank you very much. Really appreciate you being here.
HOLMAN: Take care.
MADDOW: I have to go think about that for a second. Leave me alone. I`ll be right back right.
MADDOW: Right now in Mexico City, for the second night in a row, an improvised army of both trained rescue teams and just concerned citizens are undertaking a heroic task, trying to find anybody who might still be alive in the rubble. It has now been more than hours since a 7.1 quake just outside Mexico City collapsed dozens of buildings in that metropolis and in numbers of buildings collapse included this elementary school, a wing of which collapsed.
This school is made of concrete. In this instance, that`s both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, big chunks of concrete could survive the impact. They may have created air pockets for any survivors. On the other hand, it`s no small task to cut through giant slabs of concrete, especially when you`re trying to avoid triggering a secondary collapse.
At the site of that elementary school collapse, rescue teams were lowering microphones and lowering motion sensors into the rubble to try to find if any kids we`re still trapped inside. But then late today, officials announced that all the children from that school have been accounted for now either because they got out, or because they`re now known to have died, just an incredible scene at and around that school for the last two and a half days now.
Experts say after collapses like this, one of the most immediate dangers is dehydration. Human beings can only push it so long to last what maybe four days without water, or now nearly three days in in terms of this crisis. The U.S. has joined in the rescue effort in Mexico City by sending one of its disaster assistance response teams.
Another one of those highly trained teams has also now been deployed to the Caribbean to help with the recovery effort there after Hurricane Maria. Three and a half million Americans are in pitch darkness tonight for a second night across Puerto Rico. Flashlights and generators have become precious commodities. Puerto Rico`s power grid was obliterated by this storm. Officials are saying it could take half a year, could take six months, to get the power grid back up and running.
Across San Juan, Puerto Rico, today, residents stood in line for hours to try to get gas to power generators. Hurricane Maria has moved on. But across Puerto Rico, there were still widespread flash floods today. Cell phone service across the island continues to be very, very limited. As we reported, Maria took out cell phone towers when it hit.
One small sign of progress, today, Puerto Rico`s largest airport in San Juan reopened to military and rescue flights, which at least means supplies could get in. Tomorrow, it will open to passenger airline traffic which means people will be able to evacuate if they want to. The Dominican Republic has 10.6 million people. They got hit by Maria today.
Rivers, there were already swollen from Hurricane Irma. That fueled a very dangerous storm surge in the Dominican Republic today and into tonight. Hurricane Maria right now is barreling toward Turks and Caicos that it`s expected to go on to hit the Bahamas.
At least people across the Caribbean killed so far by Hurricane Maria, including one in Puerto Rico which is a mercifully small number given the amount of physical damage that was done. But tonight, we are thinking of the millions of people in Puerto Rico and the rescue teams working throughout the night in Mexico City and the people who are still looking at that storm bearing down on them.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Tonight, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate has written to the FBI, telling them that they need to report to Congress about, quote, whether the FBI ever provided the Trump campaign with a defensive briefing or any other warning regarding attempts to infiltrate the campaign by people connected with or compromised by Russian intelligence.
Grassley`s letter goes on to say, quote: such briefings are one of the tools that the FBI uses to thwart attempts by foreign intelligence services to infiltrate organizations or compromised U.S. citizens. Such a briefing allows innocent, unwitting organizations and individuals to take defensive action to protect themselves.
What Senator Grassley appears to be insinuating here is that if the FBI didn`t warn the Trump campaign about Russian influence, about Russians trying to infiltrate what they were doing, well, then, maybe it`s the FBI`s fault what happened to us all next. Maybe it`s not the Trump campaign`s fault, maybe the FBI didn`t do its job.
So, this letter has just gone out from Grassley`s office tonight. But I think it`s fair to see this as just the latest in a series of Senator Grassley`s attempts to really go after the FBI, as if they`re the real bad actor, if they`re -- as if they`re the real suspect in the Russia scandal.
Senator Grassley at one point demanded the FBI hand over all its FISA warrants, the foreign intelligence surveillance warrants, and all their requests for FISA warrants, all of them that they`ve issued in the investigation. Just hand over all the warrants in your ongoing investigation so the committee could check how much of the investigation was based on the Trump-Russia dossier that was created by that former MI6 agent.
This summer, Senator Grassley also spent considerable energy trying to discredit and criticize the acting head of the FBI at the time, Andrew McCabe, who, of course, is a potentially corroborating witness for James Comey in any obstruction of justice inquiry into the president firing James Comey. Andrew McCabe is one of the FBI officials who Comey says he told about the president`s demands about the Russia investigation at the time that behavior happened before Comey was fired.
But here`s one thing Chuck Grassley is also doing that we learned about this week and it`s also appears to be to try to target or somehow get all up in the FBI investigation into the president, and I have real questions about how this is going to play out. Senator Grassley has very aggressively gone after these corroborating witnesses around the obstruction of justice issue. He`s gone after not just Andrew McCabe as acting FBI director. He`s also been going after two other senior FBI officials, two other potentially corroborating witnesses for why the president fired James Comey.
These are -- these are two more of the senior FBI officials who James Comey says he told about the president`s behavior while it happened before the president fired him. Grassley and his committee have been asking those two senior FBI officials to come in for a Senate interview about Comey`s firing. But earlier this month, the Justice Department turned down those requests, and when they turned down that request they explained why. They said, sending those FBI officials to testify with the Senate would interfere with a matter that was being investigated by Robert Mueller in the special counsel`s office.
Now, that was newsworthy for us at the time because that confirmed basically for sure that the special counsel Robert Mueller investigation is looking into obstruction of justice by the president and the firing of James Comey, since that`s what those two FBI officials were reportedly a witness to.
I mean, that`s who these two witnesses from the FBI are right these guys are people who Comey confided in at the time about the president`s inappropriate behavior.
So, right, that`s a big deal, if Mueller is looking into that and it would interfere with that for them to testify anywhere else.
OK. So, that`s what Grassley is doing. Yesterday, we got word that even though the Justice Department has said which really means Robert Mueller has said, that the committee can`t interview these FBI officials because it would mess up Mueller`s investigation, despite that, Chuck Grassley has responded that you know what he`s going to subpoena those guys anyway, which means we could find ourselves in a situation where Congress is sending subpoenas to the FBI and the special counsel is saying, no, you can`t talk to these guys.
Who wins in a fight like that? And what is Grassley up to with doing this?
Joining us now is Ron Weich. He`s a former assistant attorney general for legislative affairs under President Obama. Before that, he was chief counsel to the judiciary committee in the Senate. He`s now dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Dean Weich, thank you so much for your time tonight. I really appreciate you being here.
RON WEICH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thanks very much for inviting me.
MADDOW: I don`t understand who wins in a fight like this. If the Senate Judiciary Committee sends subpoenas to these FBI officials and the special counsel says that it would interfere with his investigation for those officials to testify, for them to respond to that subpoena, who wins?
WEICH: The winner should be the prosecuting agency. In this case, special counsel Mueller, and really, the American people should win, that is to say they should see this investigation carried out in the manner free of political interference. And so, while Congress have legitimate role in overseeing the operations of the department and making sure that taxpayer money is well-spent, when there`s a direct conflict with the criminal investigation, it is well-established that the investigation trumps congressional oversight, no pun intended.
MADDOW: And who`s the arbiter? How does it get decided?
WEICH: Well, the department can simply refuse to allow these Department of Justice employees. You understand they`re FBI officials and that means they`re Department of Justice employees. The department will refuse. The subpoena ultimately could be checked by an assertion of constitutional authority by the executive branch.
It`s not going to come to that. It never comes to that. In this situation in the past, the congressional committee has stood down.
MADDOW: If there is this kind of conflict arise, I guess we`re seeing this kind of conflict come to a head now, at the Justice Department, the official who was acting as the attorney general overseeing the special counsel investigation is Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, but in effect he`s the attorney general for this -- for this investigation.
WEICH: That`s correct.
MADDOW: There are concerns around him as well, because from his own account of the way this unfolded, the Comey firing unfolded, he himself may be an important witness in terms of understanding how this unfolded within the executive branch. We learned, at least from open source reporting this week that Rod Rosenstein may have been in fact interviewed by the special counsel about his role or what he witnessed in this part of the probe, in this obstruction of justice probe.
WEICH: Rachel --
WEICH: I happen to know Rod Rosenstein. He was a colleague of mine in the Justice Department and I worked with him in the years that I`ve been dean at the University of Baltimore. I know him to be a very honorable man who well understands his obligations and if he needs to recuse himself, he could do that. So far, he hasn`t seen that as necessary.
And we don`t know enough to say that he`s wrong in that. I certainly doubt that that he is because he is a man of great integrity.
I think that in this situation, we need to let the facts play out before we criticize, and it looks to me like the department is doing a good job of protecting special counsel Mueller`s investigation.
MADDOW: In terms of the recusal decision that Mr. Rosenstein is making and I take your point about your relationship with him and your respect for him and have no reason to not have respect for him, if he is making the wrong decision on recusal, how does that get policed? Would that be a matter for the inspector general at the Justice Department or is there anybody else who can insinuate themselves into that decision on his part to police it, to make sure it`s proper sure?
WEICH: Sure. I mean, you`re right that the inspector general could have something to say about that. That is in part that official`s role. There are career ethics officials at the department who counsel individuals like Mr. Rosenstein about this. And now, ultimately, again, it doesn`t come to this, but Mr. Rosenstein is accountable to Congress. He was confirmed by the Senate and he is accountable there.
But I think again we`re playing this out too far right now. I see an investigation that is functioning well and that seems to be protected by the Justice Department under, as you say, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein.
MADDOW: And do you think that the actions by Senator Grassley look like an effort to try to slow down or gum up or divert the attention to the FBI as a potential bad guy here? Does it feel like appropriate oversight to you?
WEICH: Senator Grassley, Chairman Grassley has been a very persistent interrogator of Justice Department officials over the years, through many administrations. I don`t want to ascribe that kind of nefarious motive to him.
To the contrary, I think he`s not trying to get to the bottom of things that he cares about, but in this instance, he must stand down. He must defer to the criminal investigation being conducted by special counsel Mueller.
MADDOW: Ron Weich, former assistant attorney general for legislative affairs in the Obama administration -- I really, really appreciate your time today. I know you`re very busy. Thank you for being here with us.
WEICH: Thanks. Thanks very much for having me.
MADDOW: All right. More to come here tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, we`re told it could happen on Wednesday. Sources on the Hill are now telling us that a vote on the new Republican plan to kill Obamacare could come next week, on Wednesday. In the meantime, Senator Mitch McConnell`s taken the next couple of days to find and squeeze hard every single arm there is that has a Republican senator attached to the end of it.
According to the Senate parliamentarian, Republicans have to have it passed by midnight next Saturday if they want to pass it and so, whether they have the votes right now or not, Republicans are telegraphing that they plan to get them before that deadline and they plan to vote on Wednesday.
Now, the timing of this is interesting and important for a couple of reasons. For one, it means Republicans think they have got a shot of finally passing this thing and killing Obamacare and throwing tens of millions of Americans off of all health insurance coverage. But the timing is also really important. It`s really important logistical information for Democrats who, of course, very much would like to save Obamacare.
Politico.com is now reporting that Senate Democrats working up list of procedural tricks and stalling tactics that they deploy in a very specific window. The idea is that the second the Republicans put this bill on the floor, the Democrats would basically hold the proceedings hostage, to try to run out the clock until that expiration date, which is midnight on Saturday.
So, now, we`ve got a good idea of what day this vote would happen. Now that we have that, Democrats can do the math. They can now figure out how much time they`d need to fill between the start of that vote and that deadline, how many senators they would need to be able to pull off holding all that time, how long they would all need to stay awake in order to run out the clock that way.
That said, people at home facing the prospect of getting kicked off their health insurance if the Republican effort passes, they`re not waiting around to see if the exhaustion plan of the Democrats in the Senate will work. Protesters are back out in the streets this week, asking their lawmakers to not take health care away. We`re starting to get in that footage and those pictures again.
This was Anchorage, Alaska. Hundreds of people standing outside Senator Lisa Murkowski`s office, chanting for the senator, kill the bill, kill the bill.
In Bangor, Maine, Senator Susan Collins` constituents made it inside her office to ask her to please vote no. North Carolinians are backed out on the street corners, targeting Senator Thom Tillis. These pictures from High Point, North Carolina.
Constituents dressed up like zombies in San Diego, calling this zombie Trumpcare, because back from the dead.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, they used inflatable props like this giant Trump-haired chicken.
We have seen these grassroots efforts to try to save the Affordable Care Act before. But this time, their organizing strategy just have one, very new, specific element to it, because of this specific timing, that Wednesday night start to Saturday night expiry, because of that window, look at this, local Indivisible chapters are asking people to call their lawmakers and tell them to, quote, run out the clock on the Obamacare repeal bill. Which, of course, really might be the Democrats best hopes to stop people from having their health insurance taken away by the tens of millions.
The clock ultimately runs out not this Saturday night but next Saturday night. No matter where your senator stands on this, you should probably advise them to at least stockpile some sleep in the meantime. Tick tock.
MADDOW: Pop quiz -- what is the single source of health insurance in the country? More Americans have insurance from this provider than any other. What is it? Medicaid.
And breaking news, "The Hill" is reporting that all Medicaid directors from every state in the country, all 50 states, have now just come out against the Republican bill to repeal Obamacare.
This is the National Association of Medicare directors. It`s the directors from every state. They say that this bill would constitute the largest intergovernmental transfer of financial risk from the federal government to the states in our country`s history. All 50 states.
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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