Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: October 20, 2017 Guest: Sarah Chayes
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You`re forgiven if you don`t. Don`t worry. Get some sleep, my friend. Thank you.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST, A.M. JOY: OK, bye.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well. Happy Friday.
As per usual, because it`s Friday, and this is our life now, there`s a lot of news, including some late breaking news tonight.
Tonight, a federal appeals court has ordered the Trump administration to at least change the way it has been treating a 17-year-old girl who is in federal custody and who wants to have an abortion. The girl is being held under the Refugee Resettlement Office, which is part of the Health and Human Services Agency.
The president appointed an official to run that office who didn`t seem like a great fit when he was announced. Again, this is the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The official that President Trump picked to run the Office of Refugee Resettlement has no experience in refugees or resettlement of anyone.
What he has done is he`s a very prolific anti-abortion activist. And even within that movement, he`s known as a real hardliner. He`s argued forcibly that it is not enough for the pro-life movement to just try to make abortion illegal in the United States. He argues that the pro-life movement should also be opposed to birth control.
Now, why someone with a passion for that particular issue should be put in charge of refugee resettlement with no experience in that field? Anybody`s guess. But that choice by the Trump administration has turned out to be a consequential thing for a lot of individual young women whose lives are very much now subject to that one official`s directive.
Court filings in conjunction with this case about this one 17-year-old show that as of March of this year, HHS believed that they had 38 pregnant girls who were being held by this agency. According to the lawsuit over this individual case, the head of this federal office, the guy who is in charge of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, he directed employees underneath him in his agency to tell girls` parents about their pregnancies against the girls` will. He`s directed federal employees to physically take girls to Christian counseling centers in Texas so anti-abortion activists at those counseling centers could try to talk them out of having abortions.
And at least in this latest Jane Doe case, it appears this federal agency under his control has been physically holding this girl in the child immigrant facility where she`s being confined. And even though kids in those facilities have a right to see doctors and get medical care, obviously they have to, right, under the close supervision of the guy who`s running that agency, this pregnant 17-year-old, they`ve apparently just been refusing not just to take her to a doctor so she can have this procedure, they`ve been refusing to allow anybody else, like an attorney or anybody to take her to the doctor so she can`t go. They`re stopping her from going.
She filed her own declaration with the court in which she said, quote: I feel like they are trying to coerce me to carry my pregnancy to term.
So, on Wednesday this week, federal court ordered the government to stop doing that. Ordered the government to get out of the way by tomorrow and let the girl have this procedure. But now, tonight, the appeals court has given the Trump administration another week and a half, given them to the end of the month, to see if they can find somebody who the Trump administration approves of who the government will then designate to take this girl out of the child immigrant facility to have the abortion done.
If that seems like a job this agency might not perform with much enthusiasm or alacrity, keep in mind that the timing here matters. The longer they hold on to her and physically block this girl from being able to get this legal, voluntary, constitutionally protected medical procedure that she has the means to pay for -- I mean, the longer they wait, the less likely it is she`s going to be legally able to get one.
She`s being held by the federal government in Texas. Texas bans abortions at 20 weeks. So tick tock for this teenage girl.
Depending on what happens with further appeals in this case, depending on what HHS chooses to do here about this girl, it looks like the anti- abortion activist who Trump appointed to run the Office of Refugee Resettlement, looks like he may succeed by forcing this girl to give birth by blocking her ability to see a doctor to end the pregnancy until it is too late for her to do so. There were protests today outside the HHS building in D.C., people protesting on behalf of this young woman, that she should be allowed to have an abortion if she wants one.
This woman does have the right to do it. She`s in the United States, right? But watch the space on this one. Obviously, there`s the critical matter of what`s going to happen to this one teenager, but this case may also be the best public window that we`ve got into what might be happening much more quietly with what may very well be dozens of teenage girls who are in the same circumstances.
As, again, from court filings, we know that as of March, HHS believed there were nearly 40 teenage girls who were pregnant who were under the supervision of this office. And at least in the case of this girl, about whom this case is being fought, her doctor visits really are being blocked by an anti-abortion activist who somehow got this job that gave him the kind of personal individual control over women`s lives and bodies that he previously could have only dreamed about as an anti-abortion activist.
The official in question here, his name is Scott Lloyd. He`s the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. But this case to keep an eye on has been filed under the name Jane Doe, minor J.D., Jane Doe, for that pregnant teenager.
Tonight, we`re also watching Puerto Rico, at exactly one month since Hurricane Maria made landfall. Electric power is still out in much of Puerto Rico, and remarkably that is a statistic that is still getting worse. The proportion of Puerto Rico without power yesterday was 21 percent.
Today -- excuse me, the proportion of Puerto Rico with power yesterday was 21 percent. Today, it is 12 percent. It went from 21 percent with power to 12 percent with power between yesterday and today.
Today parts of the capital city of San Juan went dark. And roughly a million American citizens on the island of Puerto Rico are still without running water. And as these intolerable circumstances have stretched on for weeks now, we have been continuing to report on the mortal threat that is no longer posed by the storm itself, which is long gone. Now, what people have to survive is the ongoing circumstances on this island and the phenomenally inadequate federal government response there.
Chief among the failures, obviously, is the inability to get people safe drinking water. People can survive without food longer than they can survive without water. But the dire lack of potable water has forced these American citizens for a month now to do what they got to do, improvise their own access to water however they can. That has led to repeated reports of people tapping wells at superfund sites, people drinking from creeks and streams and rivers. People collecting rain water and water from gutters.
Today, the death poll in Puerto Rico rose to 49. The latest death is attributed to Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a disease you get from having to rely on open air water sources that have also been contaminated by animals.
When the first two deaths from Leptospirosis were announced, officials in Puerto Rico said there were four additional cases of possible Leptospirosis that they were investigating. Well, today, Puerto Rico state epidemiologist said the number of cases they`re investigating as of today for potential Leptospirosis has jumped. It was four. It`s now 74.
Hurricanes don`t give you Leptospirosis. Lack of access to clean drinking water because of a failed recovery effort after the hurricane, that`s what gives you Leptospirosis. These are death -- these are illnesses that will be attributed to the failed response to the hurricane. Not to the hurricane itself.
Now, we don`t know how much of these potential Lipto cases, again, they`re investigating, 74. WE don`t know how many of these potential Lipto cases are fatalities or are people who have been successfully treated or people who are currently in treatment, but 74 cases being investigated is a very alarming number if you are worried about the prospect that Puerto Rico is evolving from a natural disaster into a public health catastrophe.
So, we`re going to have more on that story coming up this hour, including some pretty remarkable new very specific details on the way the Trump administration responded to Hurricane Harvey in Texas, versus the way they are responding to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. So, that`s ahead.
Today has also been a day of surreal fallout from yesterday`s truly unusual statement in the White House briefing room from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. John Kelly yesterday gave those very emotional remarks about how he was notified about the death in combat of his son. In that very intense emotional context, he defended Trump for the -- excuse me, defended President Trump for the president`s condolence calls he placed to military families recently.
But then John Kelly from the same podium went into an extended and apparently prepared just pitiless critique of a Democratic congresswoman named Frederica Wilson from South Florida.
Congresswoman Wilson had been physically with the family of Sergeant La David Johnson, she`d been with his widow when Sergeant Johnson`s widow took the condolence call from President Trump. Sergeant Johnson`s widow took that call on speakerphone so other members of the family and the congresswoman could hear the conversation.
In the conversation, President Trump used language, intentionally or not, that the family found disrespectful and hurtful.
John Kelly yesterday criticized Congresswoman Wilson for having been on that call. Now, that was an unusual line of attack from the chief of staff because that decision to have Congresswoman Wilson on the call, that was a decision made by Sergeant Johnson`s widow. And she seems like somebody who doesn`t need to be attacked by anyone right now.
John Kelly then also criticized the congresswoman at length for comments he said she made at an FBI ceremony in Miami in 2015. Comments he said he remembered and that he and many other people found quite distasteful at the time, although they said nothing to the press.
Now, I mentioned these sounded like prepared remarks from John Kelly. They were certainly cogent remarks, well laid out. He appeared at times to potentially be speaking from notes. The anecdote from Miami a couple of years ago. That made up the bulk of the remarks he made yesterday and he was speaking from the White House podium. And usually people prepare to do that.
But what John Kelly said about Congresswoman Wilson, the remarks he attributed to her were not anything that she said. This event that he was recounting was not that long ago, it was only 2015. It was a public event. There were cameras there. There`s tape of her full remarks.
The tape shows her asking law enforcement personnel to stand up so she can lead the room in thanking them. It shows her getting a standing ovation at the end of her remarks. It shows her speaking at length and with some passion about the deaths of the FBI agents for whom that building was being renamed. Thanks to a renaming effort that she had led.
John Kelly accused her of having gotten up at that event, said nothing about the agents and just bragged about how she got funding for the building.
Congresswoman Wilson didn`t get funding for that building. She never bragged about or even brought up the issue of funding for that building. And she absolutely did talk at length about those agents. And she got their names right. He got their names wrong yesterday.
Confronted with that, confronted with the tape of her remarks today, which absolutely contradicted what the White House chief of staff said about her, the White House spokeswoman said today there would be no apology, that General Kelly would not take back his remarks. They`re going to let it go.
White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested that anybody looking for the White House or the chief of staff to correct the record on this matter would be behaving in a manner that was, quote, highly inappropriate. She said that would be going after General Kelly. That would be getting into a debate with a four-star marine general, and that would be highly inappropriate.
General Kelly is a four-star marine general. But what he said about Congresswoman Frederica Wilson is absolutely untrue. And that`s the sort of thing that would usually cause resignations from the White House, particularly if the White House refused to give an apology for the remarks. But this is a different time.
What started this week of fighting and drama and lying on this very fraught issue was the president`s still unexplained decision to not make any public acknowledgment, not make any public pronouncement about the deadliest combat incident of his presidency thus far. The loss of four U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers on October 4th in Niger, in an ambush attack carried out by Islamic militant groups, but so far, no group has claimed responsibility.
Now, I reported here last night that one of the reasons the president might be so reluctant to talk about the attack in Niger is the prospect that this attack might have been carried out by a group linked to ISIS. The president quite vocally is interested right now in getting credit for eliminating ISIS. So, that doesn`t fit well with him having to explain how an ISIS group may have claimed four American lives.
We also reported that the Trump administration enraged and bewildered the government of the neighboring country of Chad. When it comes to the fight against Islamic militancy in that part of the world, a place where different Islamic militant groups have held major cities and large swaths of territory, big chunks of Mali and Nigeria, a group claimed themselves as the new province of the Islamic state in that part of the world at one point. In that part of Africa, the military from Chad has often been the lead, and many experts see them as the most effective regional military force when it comes to fighting Islamic militant groups in that part of the world.
One of the outward facing signs of that is that so many of the multinational task forces and ongoing military operations against Islamic militants in that region are headquartered in the nation of Chad. Chad itself does have some problems with Islamic militants carrying out attacks in their own territory, but their problem with that is nothing like what they have to deal with in the nearby countries of Mali and Nigeria and Niger.
Still, though, in all those countries, it has been troops and Special Forces from Chad who have been in the forefront of the frontline fighting. Even though they don`t have to deal with it as badly at home, they are very active in the region, that front-line fighting and efforts to retake territory from militant groups, these groups linked to al Qaeda and ISIS and Boko Haram and others.
Despite that track record in Chad, despite that demonstrated and proven anti-terrorism capability and commitment from Chad, the Trump administration reportedly ignored vehement protests from the U.S. Defense Department and the U.S. State Department, and at the end of last month, inexplicably, they listed Chad on the new travel ban. And really, nobody knows why.
"The Associated Press" reported yesterday that one of the reasons they might have put Chad on the list is because Chad ran out of passport paper recently, and therefore, they weren`t able to submit a fresh sample passport to Homeland Security Department in time to avoid being put on the list because of something that stupid.
So, the Trump administration made their travel ban announcement September 24th. Baffling everyone as to why Chad was on the list. It prompted Chad to put out a statement expressing its, quote, incomprehension over the Trump administration`s decision.
Many experts in the field -- in fact all experts in the field joined the government of Chad in expressing incomprehension for what the Trump administration did.
The following week, Chad started removing all of its troops from neighboring Niger, where they had been deterring and fighting off incursions from Islamic militant groups. The week after that, the week after Chad started pulling its troops out of Niger, the week after that was the ambush in Niger near the border with Mali, which claimed four American lives.
And over the course of the day today, lots of people have been very upset with me for reporting that last night, which is fine. I didn`t know you cared.
But the upset over my reporting that last night doesn`t mean that anything I reported wasn`t true. Everything I reported was true.
Now, this doesn`t -- this also doesn`t mean that Chad withdrawing their troops was necessarily the cause of what happened to those U.S. troops who were ambushed. That ambush is being described by the Pentagon a shock, and there`s an investigation into what went wrong there, how it was the military had no idea what was coming and they were so unprepared for that.
But, honestly, if you are looking at the central domestic mystery here, which is why didn`t the president even acknowledge those deaths in the worst combat casualties of his presidency, he was asked today by NBC News if he had ordered the mission that resulted in those deaths, and the president just walked away without saying anything. He is not acknowledging or speaking to or commemorating in any way the loss of those soldiers. He`s made no public pronouncements about it whatsoever.
And if you are interested in the central mystery of why the president is so reluctant to talk about that or take questions on that -- well, it really is true that his administration just took what is widely believed to be absolutely inexplicable action to alienate and anger and insult the country that has been our most effective military partner against Islamic militants in the part of the world where these attacks just happened.
In terms of figuring out what happened in that ambush, NBC News reports tonight that a congressional source briefed on the ambush called it a, quote, massive intelligence failure on the part of the U.S. There was reportedly no U.S. overhead surveillance, so no manned aircraft watching over what the soldiers were doing, no drones, no way to get eyes on the ground when things went bad.
There was also no American quick reaction force available to rescue the troops if things went badly or to search for them if things went missing, or if they went missing. "The Wall Street Journal" was first to report alongside the Pentagon investigation of what happened, the FBI has now joined the investigation.
Now, that is not unheard of in a military incident like this, but it doesn`t happen every time. According to "The Journal", quote, the FBI has the authority to take over the investigation from the Pentagon. But it has not yet done so.
So, it`s Friday. There`s a lot going on. I feel like a lot of the news stories that broke today are things that are likely to break through this weekend. On the Niger ambush story, it`s worth knowing that Sergeant La David Johnson, the service member whose body was not recovered until two days after the other three service members had their bodies taken off the battlefield. He`s the one whose widow was with the congresswoman who the White House is now attacking for having recounted what the president said in his conversation to her.
Sergeant La David Johnson, his funeral is tomorrow in Florida. So that alone will likely keep this story in the spotlight over the weekend. I expect that we may also start to learn more about the preliminary results of the investigation into this matter, which again now involves both the Pentagon and the FBI, and Congress seems to be up on its hind legs pushing for information on it as well.
So, expect that story in particular to develop over the weekend. But here`s one last thing. In terms of what has gone on this week in the news. When we look back on this week, weeks and months down the road, despite all of the insane news that happened this week, we may find that the thing that happened this week that has the biggest long-term impact on our politics is something that really flew under the radar this week except in legal circles.
This is about something that was identified publicly and widely discussed as a potential crisis for the country right when Trump was sworn in, but then because of everything else, it kind of faded from view. Thanks to this court case this week, this issue has just come roaring back, and we`ve got basically the world`s most qualified person here on set with us next to talk about what this means.
That story`s next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So the village had been bombed out. It`s a small village right next to the airport in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. This was early on in the war.
One aide worker said what was left of the town looked like the surface of the moon. You see this little boy sitting in the remains of his house.
That aide worker, American aide worker wanted to help people in the village to rebuild. To rebuild they were going to need stone foundations for the houses, because that`s how the houses were built around there. It`s first thing, stone.
Turns out the guy in charge of the stone didn`t want to give it to her. He wanted her to buy cement instead, naturally, because what he wanted her to buy was his cement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want a stone foundation, then it will be more expensive.
But if you use cement, it will be cheaper and better.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only thing is we promised this village that we would rebuild this village the way it was before, and they had stone foundations before, and it`s just one village.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is plenty of stone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bricks and cement. Buy my cement.
That mountain has to be saved for using on cement from his (EXPLETIVE DELETED) factory and nobody is allowed to have stone for foundations.
He`s cornering the market completely and he`s the governor and the part owner of this new cement factory. So, he`s using his governmental power to protect that monopoly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He`s using his governmental power to protect that monopoly. The governor owns that cement factory, and the governor proclaims you shall use cement to rebuild. Guess where you`re buying it from.
The angry woman in that clip is Sarah Chayes. Angry and articulate. In the 1990s, she was the Paris correspondent for NPR. This clearly is not Paris.
In 2001, she went to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan to cover the start of the U.S. war there. By 2002, she decided to leave journalism and try to help and rebuild and build up Afghanistan. She moved to Kandahar full time.
She did rebuild the homes in that blown-up village by the airport. She worked for a Karzai family connected NGO for a time. She opened a factory making soap and cosmetics to try to get people a way to make money on their own terms and rebuild their economy on their own terms.
How does a random, solo white lady last in Kandahar when many women aren`t allowed to leave their homes there? First of all, first rule, doesn`t dress like an Afghan woman, dress like an Afghan guy. Also, be Sarah Chayes.
The better part of a decade living and working in Afghanistan, working as a journalist, working in NGOs, in business, ultimately becoming a high level adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What Sarah Chayes ended up becoming through all of that unexpectedly, what she ended up becoming was one of the world`s leading experts on corruption.
Her central argument which she learned in Afghanistan and all over the world is that you can`t get security now and then thereafter take care of the governance issues and the corruption problems. Corruption turns out to be like a really bad, bad, bad virus. It`s easy to get and it`s hard to kill.
But if you`re a country, once you`ve got it, once you`ve got a bad case of corruption, it not only saps a country of its ability to thrive. It accelerates some of the most dangerous things on earth -- radicalism, conflict, unbridgeable division. She literally wrote the book on it "Thieves of State."
But she`s here tonight because she`s just written something else.
Three days after President Trump was inaugurated, the ethics watchdog group CREW filed a lawsuit against the president, alleging that the president is violating the Constitution by allowing his businesses to accept payments from foreign governments while he still owns and benefits from those businesses.
This week, Sarah Chayes submitted this brief to the court as part of the case, making the argument that the dangers of him taking foreign payments go way beyond just classlessness and they go beyond the violation of what was previously seen as obscure clause of the Constitution. Quote, numerous violations of the emoluments clause by the president of the United States erode and sullied the fundamental principles upon which our country is founded and expose this nation to grave threats.
First, they raise the specter that foreign gives will influence presidential policy. Second, they undermine citizen`s faith in the integrity of their government. And third, they invite kleptocratic practices typical of places like Afghanistan to infect our democracy. The kleptocratic networks to which defendant, the president, is beholden engage in a style of lieu that is antithetical to American democracy. Whether they`re nominal democracies such as Indonesia or outright autocracies such as the Philippines or the UAE, these are criminalized kleptocracies distorting essential government functions to grossly enrich a ruling clique.
Dismissal of the complainant`s case would help such practices gain acceptance at home. And the character of American democracy would be corrupted for decades to come.
It`s one thing to hear some schmuck on TV say that. A person like Sarah Chayes is in a unique position to know of what she speaks.
Joining us now for the interview is Sarah Chayes. She`s now senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She`s also the author, as I mentioned, of "Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security".
Sarah, it`s really nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
SARAH CHAYES, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE SENIOR FELLOW: Great to see you.
MADDOW: I am unnerved by seeing your scholarship and your life experience about kleptocracies and endemic corruption in places like Afghanistan and the Philippines and Honduras and all this stuff being something that you see as directly relevant to American politics. I find it unnerving.
CHAYES: I do, too.
CHAYES: It`s been a kind of slow motion nightmare to watch sort of the plays that we`ve been seeing since January 20th because I almost feel like I know which one is coming next. It`s like it so familiar, but it`s familiar from Honduras, from Azerbaijan, from Afghanistan.
MADDOW: You make the article in the brief, and I didn`t expect this until I got into it, but you go through the president`s business involvement in various countries like the ones I just mentioned in that excerpt, Indonesia, Philippines, UAE, and you say essentially these governments are corrupt in a way that we Americans should be able to understand.
They`re far away countries, we can understand this and see this when it happens in other places. In order to be doing business in those countries, you have to be participating in their graft.
CHAYES: That`s right. And it`s not just graft. It`s not just a collection of venal things that a bunch of different people do. In fact, what these governments do is kind of weave a network. And in different countries, it`s going to be more tightly woven or less tightly woven. It`s going to have more internal, you know, disruption or rivalry or whatever.
But these are networks that straddle the kind of sectors that we love to keep separate in our minds. So, you`ve got private sector and public sector, right, which we Americans love to fight about, which is worse for your health, right, you know? But in these networks, they overlap. Sometimes they`re identical.
In Azerbaijan, for example, the president`s family owns 11 banks. So they like own the financial sector.
MADDOW: Financial sector.
CHAYES: That`s right.
In others, they`re a little bit more distinct, but what you have is this constant exchange of favors. So like I make a law that`s a sweetheart deal for electricity generated by a certain kind of electricity plant by like biomass, let`s say. And then I get shares in the biomass company. So, you have this constant exchange.
And then the criminal sector is almost always woven in, too. In Afghanistan, that guy who what he was saying was, but stone is going to be too expensive for you, you want to have cement, it`s cheaper. He was running most of the opium in southern Afghanistan at that time.
CHAYES: So you have this overlap and you simply cannot do business in especially I would say three sectors always come up, energy, lets -- sorry, energy, let`s do the next one, high-end real estate is the other, banking. Energy, banking, and high-end real estate.
You can`t be in those three sectors in these countries without either being a member of the network or engaging in this kind of exchange.
MADDOW: And why is that dangerous to us as Americans rather than just being a potential legal liability for the president and his businesses or just something that reflects poorly on him?
Don`t answer yet. We have to take a break. We`ll be right back with Sarah Chayes right after this.
MADDOW: This week, a big lawsuit against the president got an important federal court hearing. The president`s lawyers want it dismissed. The people suing him, the ethics watchdog suing him say he should be held to account that his business interests are doing lots of business with foreign governments and that`s against the Constitution.
Sarah Chayes stays with us. Thank you for being here. Sarah Chayes has filed a brief in this case I find absolutely chilling.
The basis of your argument is the president is involved with kleptocratic regimes, corrupt regimes in terms of his own business practices in countries around the world. Why is that not something personally bad about him or potentially criminal about his business? Why is that dangerous for us as a country?
CHAYES: So when the president of the United States is in business with a regime like that, that`s like a stamp of approval, right? It doesn`t matter what U.S. policy might be about corruption overseas. So, then what happens is people subjected to systemic corruption react by going to extremes.
We`ve been seeing it for the last, you know, five, ten years. We`ve seen them join extremist groups like Boko Haram, like the Taliban, like the Islamic State. We`ve seen them have revolutions. Those revolutions have devolved in ways that have made the world a lot less secure.
But for me, what`s most important is suddenly these practices start to get kind of brushed off, like well, that`s just how you do business. Not only over there. Remember this is the president of the United States doing business in these ways. So, it`s reinforcing, it`s a stamp of approval on these practices.
Once you say it`s OK to do it in Indonesia and, by the way, it`s the president of the united state`s organization that`s doing it in Indonesia, then you`re kind of saying it`s OK for Americans. I`m afraid that these practices will come to infect the United States of America.
Now, we`re the only country in the world founded on a set of ideals, right? I mean, that`s our whole reason for existing. It was precisely to break away from the venality and corruption of, you know, the British government. That was one of the main rationales, not the only one, it was tyranny, but it was also we don`t want to be venal and corrupt like the British crown which is suborning the members of parliament who are supposed to be representing the people.
That was -- the constitutional debates were full of those arguments. And so, the very pretext for even having a United States of America becomes undermined.
MADDOW: If in your living in Afghanistan for nearly a decade, in your study of kleptocracy around the world and how corrupt regimes work, how they`re structured, who they benefit, who they hurt, what kinds of radicalism and division they cause, did you learn anything about how countries who are on the precipice of a new era of corruption, a new type of corruption, how we can stiffen our spines, how you can get better, how you can fend it off?
CHAYES: What`s really interesting is it has to be institutional. In other words, there`s a temptation to say, oh, if you could only have a knight in shining armor, if you could only have an individual. And sometimes it does take a reforming individual at the top, but often, it will take some fairly sweeping measures at least at the beginning to sort of show that you`re serious.
But I think we can look to our own history, right? I mean, if you go back to the gilded age, it took a couple of decades but then it took a really serious set of reforms. So, what we`ve been watching are norms, ways that we expected government officials to behave, but that weren`t law, right? And they`ve been slipping -- this didn`t start on January 20th. The kind of overlap that we now see in this country between private sector interests, particularly, you know, energy, defense contracting, banking, big pharma or the health industry.
I mean, we got four or five of these that have really been shaping decision making in the United States for well before January 20th. But there were still some basic things we expected public officials to do, things like release your tax returns, things like, you know, don`t hire lobbyists to actually regulate the industries they were lobbying on behalf of. We kind of took those for granted.
It`s clear to me in this country, we are going to need a series of reforms that are going to have to be made in law and not just in practice.
MADDOW: Yes, that don`t just count on sort of shame and public embarrassment to be the corrective.
CHAYES: That`s right.
MADDOW: Sarah Chayes, now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the author most recently of "Thieves of State", and one of the most interesting people I`ve interviewed over the years -- really happy to you have back here tonight.
CHAYES: Great to see you. Thank you.
MADDOW: It`s really good to see you.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This summer, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to confirm one of President Trump`s very first nominees to be a U.S. attorney, a woman named Jessie Liu. And in Jessie Liu`s official statement at the hearing, there was an interesting detail.
Quote: In March and April 2017, I attended formal interviews of the Justice Department and also interviewed with representatives of the White House counsel`s office, and then I met the president.
You what now?
That caught everybody`s attention because a candidate for U.S. attorney, candidate for federal prosecutor meeting with the president before he nominates her? That`s weird. I mean, it`s not illegal but that`s definitely weird.
Now, this week, "Politico" reports that the president has also met with two other potential candidates for the role of U.S. attorney, one who is a potential candidate for the eastern district of New York, which is based in Brooklyn, one who is reportedly a potential candidate for the southern district of New York, which is Manhattan. The southern district of New York has jurisdiction over basically the whole financial world and it also has geographic reach that includes Trump Tower, HQ for the president`s business dealings, home base for the Trump campaign and the Trump transition.
So, it`s a weird thing for a president to meet with potential nominees to be federal prosecutors to be U.S. attorneys. But when you look at the ones, we know that President Trump has met with, they would be the ones in charge of prosecuting crimes in Washington, D.C., and Manhattan, and Brooklyn, right? Very much the president`s home turf both in politics and business, places where he might conceivably have skin in the game, meaning if any federally prosecutable crimes arose in connection with the president`s businesses or his families or the campaigns or transitions, it`s those U.S. attorneys in New York and D.C. who`d be the ones to try those cases, and those are the ones he`s meeting with personally?
Now again, this is not illegal. The president is within his legal rights to meet with these people, but it`s unheard of.
Preet Bharara occupied the southern district role until the president fired him in March. He said this week that it is neither normal nor advisable for the president to have done this, and he`s in a position of which he speaks.
Another person in a position to know of what she speaks on this issue, a person who had the occasion to talk to a whole bunch of U.S. attorneys about this joins us next.
MADDOW: In his long testy hearing at the Judiciary Committee this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked a question about these new, very unusual reports that the president taking personal meetings himself with several candidates for U.S. attorney jobs. Now, presidents don`t usually meet with potential U.S. attorneys.
Most presidents and the Justice Department tend to take care to keep law enforcement away from anything that looks like a politician`s influence.
So why is President Trump taking these personal meetings? Here`s how the attorney general responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I`m not sure I remember whether he had interviewed for New York, but if you say so, I assume so. And he has the right to, but for sure, because he has to make an appointment and I assume that everybody would understand that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: See the attorney general`s not particularly concerned about any untoward appearances in this matter.
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade. She`s former U.S. attorney from the eastern district of Michigan. She`s an MSNBC contributor.
Barbara, thanks for being here. Thanks for joining us.
BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh my pleasure, Rachel. Nice to see you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
I am not a lawyer and I`m -- I know people who are lawyers and I know people who have worked in federal prosecutor`s offices but I still can`t quite figure out if it`s a big deal that the president is meeting with potential federal attorneys. There have been former Obama administration officials who say that President Obama never did anything like this.
Is it clear that this is an unprecedented thing?
MCQUADE: Yes, it`s not illegal, but it`s definitely unheard of. You know, I happen to be in Washington this week for a conference of former U.S. attorneys. These are U.S. attorneys from Democratic administrations and Republican administrations. So, I`ve been asking around whether anyone ever met with or interviewed by the president who appointed them and the answer is without exception, no. So, it is highly unusual.
MADDOW: And what`s concerning about it? As you say, it`s not illegal, but it does seem to be absolutely breaking with precedent. When`s the reason that a president typically wouldn`t do this?
MCQUADE: Well, it`s important to keep in mind that these are appointments very different from other appointments like the president`s cabinet. Prosecutors are -- it`s very important that they be independent and that they not only be independent but there`s the appearance of independence.
In fact, there`s a policy memo that prevents U.S. attorneys from having direct communication with the White House. Only the highest levels of the Department of Justice are even allowed to communicate and that is to preserve that independence so that the public has confidence that prosecutors are acting on facts and law and not political motivations.
MADDOW: There are reports that the people who the president has chosen to speak to are from two districts in New York affecting places where he has business interest, Brooklyn and Manhattan offices. Also the D.C. district attorney where that`s quite relevant given what his current job is.
There`s also some unconfirmed reports that the president may have taken personal interest and made personal contact with somebody who would be the U.S. attorney where Mar-a-Lago is in that district in Florida. Is there particular reason to be worried that the president seems to be seeking out people who might potentially be looking at criminal matters where he has his interests?
MCQUADE: Well, I think it`s an special red flag, isn`t it, when he`s looking at people who are in the jurisdictions where he does business, where he lives, where he associates live, Washington, D.C., New York and Florida. You know, if he said I want to interview everyone I appoint to every position or at least every U.S. attorney that might still seem odd and improper, but when he`s focusing on the very districts where he himself could face criminal exposure I think raises a particular red flag.
MADDOW: Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney from the eastern district of Michigan, thank you. Really helpful to have you here tonight.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Whether or not you watch baseball the rest of the year, everybody becomes a baseball fan in October. In Houston tonight, the Yankees playing the Astros for the chance to go to the World Series, game six. Games one and two are also played in Houston.
And whether or not you care about baseball generally speaking, it is a great and remarkable American news story that these games have been played in Houston because Houston got slammed by Hurricane Harvey on August 25th. In the wake of the storm there was, of course, historic flooding in Houston.
Major League Baseball did have to move a series of games between the Astros and Rangers because of Houston`s ballpark not being in play. But now less than two months after Harvey, Houston has recovered to the point where they can host these big national sporting events and have that not be the main thing to talk about the whole time, but that`s real progress and at least some of that progress is thanks to the robustness of the response from the federal government when it came to Texas. Three hundred and thirty-eight thousand Texans were without power after the storm.
And the days after Harvey, 5,300 power workers from outside the region all converged on coastal Texas to get electricity back on for almost everyone within two weeks. And that`s awesome.
And when you compare that to what we have seen in Puerto Rico, it is not a subtle difference. In Texas, thousands of repair workers rushed in to restring power lines. In Puerto Rico, a few hundred electrical workers from outside the island arrived to help.
Everything`s bigger in Texas, right? When it comes to disaster response, that is a terrible truth about what`s happened in Puerto Rico. And the need in Puerto Rico has turned out to be much, much greater.
The power outage in Texas was one tenth the size of the power outage in Puerto Rico, yet Texas has had thousands of people there to help get the lights back on. Puerto Rico has a couple of hundred. The power grid in Puerto Rico was decimated. Nearly 3.5 million Americans in darkness for more than a month.
In the past 24 hours, it`s actually gotten worse. Yesterday, 21 percent of the island had power, tonight, 12 percent of the island has power, and the death toll continues to rise. The number of Americans dying from treatable and preventable infections is going up. The president is giving himself a 10 out of 10?
It`s not a question of whether or not we can do more. Clearly, we can. We just showed what we can do. Other places like Houston saw it. Just for whatever reason, not Puerto Rico, at least not yet, not one month in.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Monday when my guest will be former Attorney General Eric Holder.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD". Ari Melber sitting in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Ari.
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