Sen. Flake on Trump: "I will not be complicit" Transcript 10/24/17 The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Devlin Barrett, Adam Schiff

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: October 24, 2017

Guest: Devlin Barrett, Adam Schiff

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.

HAYES: You bet.

MADDOW: And thanks at home for joining us this hour. Happy Tuesday.

The big news out of Washington today is the announced resignation of Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who has become one of the most outspoken critics of President Trump within his own party. Senator Flake`s 17-minute Senate speech today denouncing Trumpism in his own party was one of those Washington moments, one of those Washington spectacles that absolutely stopped people in their tracks today.

That said, strategically, it came with one major asterisk on it. So, we`re going to be speaking with presidential historian Michael Beschloss about not just that spectacle today and what a moment that was but what that might mean about the Trump presidency. So, that`s coming up a little later this hour.

And that story about Jeff Flake and these remarkable comments he made today on the Senate floor, that was the story that really dominated Beltway media coverage today. And I think because of that, there were a number of other important stories that broke today that didn`t get as much attention as they might otherwise. Just because the Jeff Flake story understandably took so much oxygen out of the room.

In case you missed it, though, also today, there was a sort of ridiculous scandal that broke involving Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. While the White House and the administration are increasingly trying to present the Trump presidency as a national security success story -- that seems to be their new line they are pushing on the press -- the security situation in Afghanistan, where thousands of U.S. troops are still serving, has actually become increasingly dire over the last few months, and in particular over the last several weeks.

There`s been a sharp increase in large casualty event attacks, including in the nation`s capital of Kabul and in terms of attacks that target security forces in Afghanistan. So, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Afghanistan in the middle of this bad security situation. He arrived in Kabul yesterday.

And then, well, the State Department initially tried to get away with saying that this meeting between Rex Tillerson on the left and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the right tried to get away with saying this meeting took place in the capital city of Kabul. It did not. They did not meet in Kabul. They met, rather, inside the perimeter at a U.S. military base at Bagram.

The Afghan government initially tried to say that the meeting took place at Kabul, but at least they went through the trouble of covering up in the photo a digital clock that had been visible in other photos that clearly showed U.S. military Zulu time on the wall behind them.

The Afghan picture just photoshopped that out when they tried to get away with saying this meeting took place in Kabul and not at a U.S. military base. That digital clock showing Zulu time would be a dead giveaway, that these two actually had met at a U.S. military base, not some random location in the city of Kabul, but the secretary of state was called out by the two different photos, including one with the bad photoshop job and the misstatement about where they were and the misstated implications how safe it is in Kabul for Rex Tillerson to go visit.

The State Department later issued a correction, admitting, yes, they actually met at a military base. That happened today.

On national security, there was also a bunch of new reporting today on the circumstances of the ambush in Niger that killed four special operations soldiers on October 4th. NBC News reports tonight on the nature of the mission these soldiers may have been pursuing when they were ambushed and the high-value terrorist target they may have been directed to pursue. That news comes to light tonight at the same time that the U.S. army has released the service records of the soldiers who were killed.

And those service records show that whatever dangerous and relatively unsupported mission these soldiers were on, they did not have significant combat experience between them. One of the four soldiers who was killed had never before been an on an overseas deployment. The other three soldiers who are killed each had had one deployment. None of them held the Army`s combat infantry badge, and none of them had been awarded a combat action badge, which is what you get if you have seen combat action before.

So, again, we still do not know why the president continues to refuse to publicly acknowledge these soldiers being lost in the most deadly combat incidents of his presidency. But we are getting new details reported out today about the circumstances of their death and the mission they were on. So, we`ll have more on that coming up tonight.

Here at home today, a federal appeals court intervened once again in the case of a 17-year-old girl who the Trump administration has really -- I mean, there is no other way to say this -- they have been trying to physically prevent her from getting an abortion. They`ve been trying to physically hold her to compel her to give birth against her will. She`s being held in HHS custody in the office of -- by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. That`s an office within HHS that President Trump put a prominent anti-abortion activist in charge, even though he had no experience with refugee resettlement.

But this young woman is not asking for the government to pay for her abortion, she`s not asking for government doctors to perform her abortion, she`s not even asking for a ride so she can get to the doctor to perform the abortion. All she`s asking for is for HHS to physically allow her to obtain this procedure on her own with resources of her own. And so far, HHS appears to be physically blocking her from going to get it.

And if you look at that another way, it really is pretty much the government forcing her to give birth against her will.

The Trump administration appears ready to litigate this to biologically what may be the point of no return for this teenage girl. But as of tonight, a federal appeals court says this girl must be allowed to go forward with this procedure. She must be released from HHS to a doctor`s office so she can have it done. We will see if the Trump administration tries to get the Supreme Court to stop her now, even beyond this.

But keep an eye on that story. Again, federal appeals court ruling. It`s possible the Trump administration may try to appeal it to the Supreme Court as well.

One other story today that flew below the radar, but I think worth knowing because my personal view, I feel like this is an ethically inexplicable story. Today, the FBI without warning and without notice, they released more than 1,000 pages of FBI documents related to their investigation of the mass killing of first graders and elementary school staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

Now, a lot of the material is heavily redacted, but a lot of it is very readable. And it includes things like FBI agent`s notes from executing search warrants and talking to family members and neighbors of the killer. It includes detailed information and notes about FBI agents chasing down every lead and tip they got from anybody related to anything connected to this case, related to the possibility that there might have been anybody else involved in the killing or what might have motivated it. It`s a ton of material. It`s the raw material of them investigating that case, and it is reading through it today, at times -- you know, it`s gruesome to read through it, it`s upsetting.

The reason I think this is a big national news story that happened today is because the release of this type of information about the Sandy Hook killings is likely to be particularly difficult for the families involved. Not just because it`s information about those killings, but particularly because the right-wing conspiracy theorists of the world, like Info Wars and Alex Jones and all these people have spent years promoting that the Sandy Hook killings were somehow a hoax and these families really didn`t lose their kids. And it`s part of some government plot to come take away your guns.

So, this printed evidence that the FBI has just released, evidence of FBI agents interviewing every possible chance that there might have been some plot behind it, you know, all of this evidence of the legwork that the FBI did to nail down that case and what happened there, it will be taken out of context and used to torment these poor families further. And we are coming up on the five-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. And these families are closing in on a time where more time will have passed on earth since their children were killed than elapsed during the lives of their children, right?

So, this is a very difficult time for the Sandy Hook families. But for some reason, today, the FBI decided without warning they would dump all of these hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of documents online, with no advanced notice to anybody that these documents were coming, and specifically with not even a heads up to the families of all of those little boys and girls who were killed.

The families got no advanced notice that the FBI was about to do this, even though the right-wing conspiracy theorists of the world who have made those families their targets, are absolutely assured to lock at this stuff and use it for a whole new round of emotional terrorism against the families who lost their first graders.

So, nice move, FBI.

I mean, they released that information in response for a FOIA request. You know, presumably, they released that stuff because they had to release it. No beef there. But they didn`t have to release it without notifying the Sandy Hook families in advance that they were going to. So those families could at least brace themselves.

When we spoke to the FBI about this today, they told us this was the natural sequence of events that they saw emerging from the FOIA request. So, at least we know they thought it was natural.

So, as I said, it was a busy news day today. A bunch of I think important stories that kind of flew under the radar because of the fascinating electoral news in the U.S. Senate. We`ll have a bunch on those stories later on over the course of this hour, including having Michael Beschloss here in just a moment.

But there are two big stories that broke just as we are getting ready to go in the air tonight. And one of them broke in "The Wall Street Journal." It concerns former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Now, with Paul Manafort, it is widely understood, it`s been widely reported that he is in the crosshairs of the special counsel investigation being led by Robert Mueller into the Russian attack on the presidential election last year and the question whether or not the Trump campaign was somehow complicit in that attack.

Paul Manafort`s house in Virginia is the only personal home we know to have been raided, subject to a no-knock FBI search warrant in this investigation, and Paul Manafort is the only Trump associate or Trump campaign figure who has reported to have been told by Mueller`s prosecutors that he should expect to be indicted.

Well, now, tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" reports that the U.S. attorney`s office in Manhattan, the most famous U.S. attorney`s office in the country, southern district of New York, the office previously led by Preet Bharara, the famous anti-public corruption prosecutor who was fired by President Trump even after he was told earlier by President Trump that he could keep the job. According to "The Wall Street Journal" tonight, the SDNY, Southern District of New York U.S. attorney`s office is pursuing its own investigation, its own criminal investigation into possible money laundering by Paul Manafort.

Quote: The chief of the public corruption unit in the southern district of New York, Andrew Goldstein, was hired over the summer by Robert Mueller to join his wide-ranging investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. Mr. Mueller`s operation took over parts of the Manafort money laundering probe after Andrew Goldstein arrived on Team Mueller. But federal prosecutors in his former office in the southern district of New York have continued to pursue their Manafort investigation, in conjunction with the special counsel`s team.

The inquiry and the Manhattan U.S. attorney`s office is being conducted at least in part by assistant U.S. attorney -- stick a pin in that -- assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni, who was previously a member of the money laundering and asset forfeiture unit, he joined the public corruption team in recent months.

Now, this is an important story on a couple of levels. Number one, from Paul Manafort`s perspective, the perspective of the Trump campaign chairman, this adds yet another layer of talented federal prosecutors who are looking at him as the former Trump campaign chairman, right? In terms of his criminal liability there, this is serious.

This is also important because of what I said to stick a pin in there, conducted at least in part by assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni. Since President Trump fired Preet Bharara and all the other U.S. attorneys, he has not appointed somebody new to run that office. There is no confirmed U.S. attorney running that office since Preet Bharara left.

And in fact, one of the minor ongoing scandals of the Trump campaign over the last several weeks has been the revelation that the president has personally been meeting with potential nominees for the U.S. attorney job in these federal prosecutors` offices, specifically in the southern district of New York, Manhattan. Also the eastern district of New York, Brooklyn, where Jared Kushner`s family real estate company has received subpoenas because they are reportedly facing criminal investigation. And we`ve heard multiple but still unconfirmed reports, including a mention from former Attorney General Eric Holder last night on this show that the one other place where President Trump has personally been meeting with potential U.S. attorneys, something no other president has ever done, the one other place he may have also done that besides southern and eastern districts in New York, may have been with a candidate for a U.S. attorney job in Florida -- the one that would have jurisdiction over his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.

So, it had been previously reported -- it`s been sort of brewing tertiary scandal that the president was considering candidates linked to Marc Kasowitz, his old hilarious personal attorney who used to represent him on Trump/Russia and also linked to his old friend Rudy Giuliani for these crucial federal prosecutors jobs in New York, where both the president himself and Jared Kushner may really have skin in the game in terms of potential criminal inquiries by those offices, right? So, there have been worries about the president appointing somebody potentially beholden to him to the offices that may potentially have criminal interest in him and his family.

Those worries about who he might appoint to those jobs have been very much compounded by this totally unprecedented news in the last few weeks that the president has been personally meeting with some of these candidates before announcing who his nominee is for those jobs. What`s he asking those people when he meets with them?

Well, now, the news that his campaign manager as well as his son-in-law is under active investigation by those offices, that puts not just a red flag on that unprecedented behavior by the president with his U.S. attorney candidates, it really puts a -- not like a -- what`s bigger than a red flag? A red siren. I big flashing red neon sign. A red clown nose?

I mean, potentially, if the president is specifically zeroing in on U.S. attorneys` offices where he may potentially have his own or his campaign or family criminal liability, that may end up attracting further interest from the special counsel Robert Mueller, if, in fact, Robert Mueller is looking at the president for a pattern of potential obstruction of justice. So, that important story broke in "The Wall Street Journal" tonight.

The other important story that broke just as we were about to go to air tonight is about -- remember Christopher Steele? The ex-British spy?

I should tell you, Congressman Adam Schiff is standing by. He`s the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. We`re going to be getting his live perspective on this in just a moment.

But we have been following the story in recent weeks as Republicans in Congress have tried to make a scandal out of the Christopher Steele dossier, the dossier of alleged Russian dirt on Donald Trump that was assembled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele during the campaign and that was published to great controversy by "BuzzFeed" in January.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Republican Congressman Devin Nunes and to a certain extent actually, Senator Lindsey Graham, as well, they`ve all tried to make it into the real Russia scandal that Christopher Steele ever created that dossier in the first place. That he was ever hired by an opposition research firm to dig that stuff up. The attacks on the dossier itself, on Christopher Steele for having produced it, on Fusion GPS for having commissioned that dossier, those attacks on the Republican side have only increased over time as elements of the dossier have been proven true, and as none of its major assertions have been publicly disproven.

It had been previously reported that Fusion`s opposition research into Trump had initially been funded by a Republican donor who was interested in defeating Trump in a Republican presidential primary. That funding naturally dried up once Trump secured the nomination. But then Fusion GPS reportedly lined up another donor to keep Steele`s research project going for the general election and that was a donor who was in favor of Hillary Clinton`s campaign.

Well, tonight, after months of Republicans prying on this issue with a crowbar, tonight, "The Washington Post" was first to worst that the Democratic donor who took over funding the dossier for the general election was a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, Marc Elias.

Quote, Elias and his lawmaker Perkins Coie, retained Fusion GPS in April 2016, on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Prior to that agreement, Fusion GPS`s research into Trump was funded by a still unknown Republican client during the Republican presidential primary. The Clinton campaign and the DNC through that law firm continued to fund Fusion`s research through the end of October 2016, days before Election Day.

Fusion GPS gave Steele`s reports and other research documents to Marc Elias. It`s unclear how or how much of that information was then shared with the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

Joining us now is Devlin Barrett. He`s a national security reporter for "The Washington Post", who was part of the team who broke this story tonight.

Mr. Barrett, thanks very much for being here. Congratulations on the scoop.

DEVLIN BARRETT, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you.

MADDOW: I have to tell you, it`s bitter congratulations I`m giving you because we were chasing this story all day today and you beat us to it. And when your story today posted on "The Washington Post" Website, there was a great yell of consternation that went up in our newsroom here at MSNBC. So, well done.

BARRETT: Well, thank you. I mean, a lot of people have been chasing this for a long time and it`s sort of become what the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans want to know most about Russia. So now that it`s out there, it will be interesting to see how everyone decides what it means given the larger investigation.

MADDOW: I mean, at one level we had previously understood from previous reporting that there was an initial Republican funder paying Fusion GPS for oppo on Donald Trump, and then once he locked up the nomination, there became a Democratic interested funder. In that sense, it`s not a surprise that we`ve got somebody linked to the Democratic campaign who was -- who was funding this.

Is there surprise -- is there anything particularly important as far as you see it about it being Marc Elias, about it being that particular law firm?

BARRETT: So, I think there`s two things. One is the brass tacks of the politics of it, right? Because the Republicans have been making essentially this argument for a number of months and using this argument that it`s just a Democratic opposition research effort to try to discredit the entirety of the Russia investigation.

I assume this will give them some wind in their sails and they`ll try to see how far they can take it. But I do think it is meaningful to know that, you, this question mark, this uncertainty as to who paid for this work in the first instance is now explained as, yes, in fact, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee did pay for this research work. That won`t end the questions as to what they found, and more importantly, what the FBI found when they started looking into it. But I do think that clears up a major unanswered question in this whole process.

MADDOW: Right towards the end of your piece tonight, you cite -- your sources saying that at no point did the Clinton campaign or the DNC direct Steele`s activities. They described him as a Fusion GPS subcontractor. So, the sources from whom you got this story are characterizing this not as the Clinton campaign and the DNC telling Steele, you know, go write this down for us, go tell us this particular story, they were paying him to find out what he could find out and it was -- it was self-directed.

BARRETT: Right. I think -- I think part of what happens is there is an evolution here and it starts out -- you know, when a Republican donor hires Fusion GPS at first, our understanding is they`re not really looking at Russia that closely. It`s only later in the election process, you know, roundabout the summer time when Steele and the issue of issue really come to the forefront of what Fusion GPS is doing.

So, yes, that becomes more of an issue as time goes on, and, you know, what we`re told is that, you know, the Clinton campaign didn`t have a ton of interaction with this stuff, however, you know, just as an example of that, tonight, a former spokesman for the campaign says that he didn`t know about it at the time. If he had known about it, he would like to have had a press conference about it or go to Europe, or dig into it more. But he didn`t know about it at the time. That`s what he says.

MADDOW: That remains one of the mysteries here, looking at the timeline, that if the Clinton campaign had access to this stuff, which it sounds like based on the funding they should have, they never made a public -- they never made a public story of it during the campaign, at least in the way that was trackable to them.

One last quick question for you, Mr. Barrett. No indication who the Republican funder was before these Democratic funders came into the picture?

BARRETT: We`re still working on that. You know, give us a day, Rachel. You know, just let us have our day. We`ll keep working and try to figure it out, we promise.

MADDOW: If you could figure it out before my news meeting, that would be awesome.

BARRETT: Thanks.

MADDOW: Thank you.

Devlin Barrett, national security reporter for "The Washington Post." One of -- part of the team that broke this story tonight at "The Post".

All right. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee joins us next.

Plus, we`ve got NBC news presidential historian Michael Beschloss here to talk about this remarkable stand that Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake took against the president of his own party today.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Today, the Intelligence Committee in the House interviewed the Trump campaign`s digital director, Brad Parscale, as well as one of President Trump`s personal lawyers and a former Trump administration executive, a man named Michael Cohen. These were both closed door interviews today. But CNN`s reporter Manu Raju was nevertheless able to report that the Michael Cohen interview with the Intelligence Committee was, quote, contentious. Tell me more.

Michael Cohen is famous as a Trump Organization executive for threatening reporters in absolutely fantastically unprintable language. So I`m curious as to what contentious means when it comes to him meeting members of Congress and their staff. But those two appearances by Parscale and Cohen, those happened today, again, behind closed doors and they happened both before the news broke tonight that the U.S. attorney`s office in the southern district of New York is reportedly pursuing a criminal money laundering investigation against the president`s campaign chairman.

Those interviews also happened today before the news broke that the Christopher Steele dossier of alleged Russian dirt on President Trump, that dossier was financed first by a Republican donor who wanted to beat Trump in the primaries, but then in the general election, we now know it was paid for by a law firm linked to the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

Now, we had expected someone linked to the Clinton campaign or at least somebody supporting Clinton`s candidacy had been funding that research during the general election. We now know it was a law firm linked to the Clinton campaign and the DNC directly. We still don`t know who the Republican was who funded it in the first place before the Democrats started doing so.

Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff. He`s the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman Schiff, it`s nice to see you. Thanks for joining us tonight.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You bet.

MADDOW: Does knowing that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party funded the research behind the Christopher Steele dossier for those six months last year, does that shed any meaningful light in your committee`s investigation into the Russian attack or whether they had help?

SCHIFF: Not particularly, no. We`ve known for some time, at least it`s been publicly reported that the dossier or the hiring of Christopher Steele was initially on behalf of one of the Republican candidates and later on behalf of the Democratic candidate. This was the first confirmation of half of that, but it doesn`t really shed any light where we really need light shed, and that is how much of what Mr. Steele found can be corroborated? How much of it is accurate?

We`ve been working hard to answer those questions, which are really what the American people need to know, and, indeed, some of the dossier has been corroborated. What I find most significant about it is the fact that Christopher Steele, no matter who was paying for his services, may have discovered before our own intelligence agencies that the Russians were going to interfere in our election on behalf of Donald Trump.

So, we have a lot of work to do in terms of a lot of the claims in the dossier, but it -- I don`t think it really adds much value to know who paid for it, necessarily, and I view this as part of the effort to discredit him which really doesn`t advance the investigation.

MADDOW: Well, on the point of discrediting the dossier, if the dossier went to the FBI, right, and to me I`ve always seen that as a sign that not only the FBI saw Christopher Steele as credible, but that Christopher Steele thought his own work would check out if somebody like the FBI followed up on it and reviewed his sources and reviewed his findings.

But if the Steele dossier did go to the FBI and it was taken seriously by the FBI and it became part of the FBI`s interest and part of the roadmap of their investigation into what happened here, I can understand why the Republicans would want to say that the dossier itself is a scandal, is salacious, is fake, and that somehow anything that follows from the FBI investigation, including the special counsel investigation, would be sort of fruit of the poison tree.

What do you make of their overall effort to discredit it? Both the strategy behind it and how well they`re doing at that.

SCHIFF: Well, I think you`re right. I think the strategy is much what you see in a criminal case where if the facts don`t reflect well on the defendant, the defendant tries to put the government on trial. So, here, the Republicans are less interested in what did Russia do and how did they do it and how do we protect ourselves? But rather, let`s shift the focus on to any kind of government misbehavior, and maybe if we can suggest that the whole investigation goes back to this dossier and this dossier was opposition research, maybe we can discredit the whole investigation and maybe we can get the country to ignore what Russia, in fact, did.

You know, the plain fact is, sometimes, what is uncovered in opposition research turns out to be true. And here if what Christopher Steele found, whether it was work for a Republican candidate and a Democratic candidate later, proved to be true, proved to be of concern to the FBI and to the country, then we need to know it and we can`t ignore it merely because it came to the surface during a political campaign.

So, the most important thing is, is it true? How much of it is true and how much outside of the dossier have we learned about the Russian involvement? And, indeed, we keep on learning more and more. So, you know, I view this as much like what happened, frankly, during our interviews today when the Republican chairman of our committee announced two new investigations of Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration as really more of the same, to deflect attention from the Russia investigation, much as the White House has been urging them to do.

MADDOW: Can I ask you about those -- I know you won`t tell us -- you won`t tell anybody what happened behind closed doors in this closed-door hearing today -- closed-door meeting today where your committee heard from the digital director from the Trump campaign Brad Parscale, and also one of the president`s lawyers, Michael Cohen, but I -- there have been published reports that describe the meeting with Michael Cohen in particular as contentious.

Are those reports accurate? Can you tell us anything more about whether or not there is anything we should know about that meeting today?

SCHIFF: You know, I can tell you that both of the witnesses today I thought answered all the questions we had. I don`t think the witnesses were contentious. There are always debates about some of the questions that are asked and often those debates are with counsel.

But, no, I thought Mr. Cohen answered our questions as did Mr. Parscale. And that`s -- you know, that`s what we need them to do. We may have more follow-up with those witnesses.

But the really contentious part, frankly, was what was taking place during our interviews in the outside of the room, and that was the announcement of those two other investigations.

I just want to tie it to your next guest Michael Beschloss and what he`ll have to say about Jeff Flake. Jeff Flake and I came in together. He is a man of tremendous integrity. I think what we saw in the House and Senate today amount to a really sad indictment of the institution.

In the Senate, it became clear with Jeff Flake and Bob Corker that the Senate has no place for people of that character and quality who are willing to stand up for what they believe the Republican Party really stands for. That the party has now become the Trumpist party, and similarly in the House, in the actions of our chair and the chairs of other committees to basically have a Benghazi redux, they`ve shown themselves to be the party of Trump and no longer what we used to think of as the conservative Republican Party.

MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee -- thank you for your time tonight, sir. It`s nice to have you here.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. Lots of news to get to tonight, including Michael Beschloss coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: He made it almost a year. He made it 362 days. Nixon had clobbered George McGovern by 18 million votes. He won 49 states. The electoral map looked like this in 1972. Nixon got that landslide win November 7th, 1972.

And then in 1973, the following year, he didn`t quite make it a year, he didn`t quite make it to November 7th, he only made it to November 4th before the first senator of his own party called on him to resign. That was Edward Brooke of Massachusetts.

Edward Brooke went through a lot in his career. He was the first African- American popularly elected United States senator. He was a combat veteran from World War II. He served in a segregated regiment.

Edward Brooke was used to being a lightning rod. He is somebody who stood out and bore the brunt because of it. But years later when he talked about the decision he made to become the first senator in the Republican Party to call for the resignation of the Republican president, even years later, you could still see that he was still shocked about the vitriol he earned for doing that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER SENATOR EDWARD BROOKE (R), MASSACHUSETTTS: So, yes, I was the first Republican to call, maybe the first senator, I don`t know, but certainly the first Republican.

INTERVIEWER: Did you get a lot of heat because of it?

BROOKE: Oh, my mail was horrible. Horrible. And my party and traitor this and threats, I always got threats. Now, I never mentioned that. But there were threats against my life and my family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Edward Brooke was the only African-American in the United States Senate. He was the only Republican who said anything remotely like Nixon should resign.

And ultimately to be proven out, Nixon was gone. He did resign within a year.

But it was -- it was front page, above the fold news when Edward Brooke did it. It was shocking to the point that he and his family got death threats that shook him years later.

Looking back on that now, though, it`s easy to forget how deep we were in the Watergate scandal before the first Republican senator finally took sides against Nixon. By the time Edward Brooke spoke out in November 4th, 1973, by then, the Senate Watergate Committee had already started its nationally televised hearings. White House counsel John Dean started cooperating with prosecutors.

The country had learned that there were tapes of Nixon in the Oval Office. Nixon refused to turn over the tapes to the Watergate committee or the special prosecutor who by then was looking into the matter. Less than a month before Edward Brooke made those comments, the vice president had to resign in a corruption scandal. When Edward Brooke was calling on Nixon to resign, there wasn`t even a new vice president in place who would be taking Nixon`s job if Nixon had followed Brooke`s advice.

By the time Edward Brooke spoke out in November 1973, Nixon had fired the attorney general and fired the deputy attorney general all because they refused to fire the prosecutor who was pursuing the Watergate investigation. And still, even at that point, Edward Brooke was the first Republican to say maybe the president should go.

That was November of `73. It was not until the following spring, the spring of `74, by which point Nixon`s campaign staffers began to plead guilty to criminal charges. His personal lawyer had pled guilty.

It was not until after senior White House officials, up to including the White House chief of staff had been indicted and the president had been named as an unindicted conspirator, it wasn`t until then that other Republicans reluctantly dragged themselves on board to start criticizing the president and to call for him to step down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JAMES BUCKLEY (R), NEW YORK: There is one way and one way only by which the crisis can be resolved and the country pulled out of the Watergate squalor. I proposed an extraordinary act of statesmanship and courage, an act once noble and heartbreaking -- at once serving the greater interests of the nation, the institution of the presidency and the stated goals for which he so successfully campaigned. That act is Richard Nixon`s own voluntary resignation as president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Conservative Republican Senator James Buckley of New York.

You can tell even from the complimentary language he used towards Nixon as he was calling for Nixon`s resignation that Buckley represented a very pro- Nixon part of the Republican Party. It took a very long time for people like that to start speaking out in light of the Watergate scandal.

Buckley made those remarks in March of 1974. By April, the White House tapes had been subpoenaed. By May, impeachment hearings started in the House. That summer, the Supreme Court ordered the release of the tapes. By early August, Nixon was gone.

Presidents in crisis are presidents doing a very bad job and getting criticized by members of their own party because of it, that`s not unheard of in American politics. But when it comes to serving senators of a president`s own party, the senator in question usually has to be a bit of an outlier himself or the president himself needs to be teetering on the edge of a political cliff before you expect full-throated intraparty denunciation and rejection of a serving president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is, when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona levied the kind of sustained, high- minded criticism at President Trump today that was fairly often directed at him during the primary campaign last year by his Republican competitors. We`ve seen little sparks of the same kind of criticism of the president emerge from Republicans around things like the president`s praising of neo- Nazi protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But in the big picture, in the context of other president who`s have been enveloped in scandal or just behaved very badly in office, where do we put this criticism today from Senator Flake and the similar criticism we`ve seen in recent days from Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee? How do we understand how important that is in the life of this presidency, especially given both Senator Corker and Senator Flake unleashed their unchecked criticism of President Trump while simultaneously announcing they were leaving politics and never again running for re-election?

Every headline in the Beltway press today was about Jeff Flake putting up this fierce fight against President Trump. Well, it is the rare fierce fight that includes quitting while you are starting the fight. So, how should we see this as presidencies go?

Hold that thought.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: It tends to be an important moment in a presidency when senators of the president`s own party start publicly denouncing him. This time, though, the two senators who are now doing that to President Trump, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and now, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, both of them have paired their blistering criticism of the president with simultaneously -- simultaneous announcements that they themselves are quitting politics.

Well, how do we read that asterisk? How does that fit into presidential history and presidents facing this type of criticism in the past?

Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.

Michael, it`s great to have you with us tonight. Thank you for being here.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: I was very interested to see Senator Flake`s remarks tonight. They are not inconsistent with the kind of criticism that he levied against the president during the campaign. He didn`t endorse the president during the campaign. He wrote a book very critical of the president`s style of leadership.

BESCHLOSS: Right.

MADDOW: The surprise today was that he announced he was quitting. How does that help us understand the importance of this for the presidency?

BESCHLOSS: Well, it sure shows that the Republican Party at the moment, a lot of Republican voters like Donald Trump and if Jeff Flake had wanted to run again, that would have been an uphill climb. But if you look at what Bob Corker said today plus Jeff Flake plus John McCain, a little bit more obliquely a few days ago and even George W. Bush the same, you know, these were scathing statements about an incumbent president.

And if you look at Corker and Flake today, these are probably the most scathing speeches we`ve heard from a sitting senator of a president`s own party, all the way to Nixon at the time that you were talking about with Ed Brooke and James Buckley.

You know, one thing we have to remember about that last year of Nixon, it finally culminated in a couple of days before Nixon resigned, the Republican leader of the House, Republican leader of the Senate, the previous Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, they all trooped up to the Oval Office and they said to Nixon, you know, you`re going to be impeached before. And just in case you feel like hanging on for a Senate trial, you`ve got about ten senators, maybe. And that was despite the fact that unlike Donald Trump, Nixon had a lot of long-time friends in the Senate who owed him.

MADDOW: Michael, we have been, I think -- we have learned over time, and not just in modern times, but particularly in modern times, that people have a hard time listening across-party line.

BESCHLOSS: For sure.

MADDOW: That people can`t hear and absorb criticism of people from the opposite party. That`s why intraparty criticism, a Republican criticizing a Republican is seen as something that can be so powerful, it`s seen as something that can open the gate, sort of give permission to other Republicans, to their peers to do the same thing.

Does the pairing of this criticism with quitting mean that that door may not open as far for Republicans who have no intention of leaving the Senate like Corker and Flake are?

BESCHLOSS: Absolutely. And I guarantee you there are a lot of Republican senators tonight who privately are saying exactly the same thing that Corker and Flake said today. But they`re terrified to say it in public, because they want to win the next election.

MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian -- thank you very much for helping us through this. Really appreciate it tonight.

BESCHLOSS: My pleasure. Be well, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Yesterday afternoon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, spent nearly an hour outlining the chain of events that culminated in the deaths of four Army Special Operations Forces in Niger in October 4th. The president still refused to discuss the deaths of those four soldiers, but journalists have been trying to fill in some of the blanks and the timeline that`s been laid out thus far by the pentagon.

The mayor of the town where the ambush happened told Voice of America News that the people of the village where the attack happened purposely led the soldiers into the ambush. That account was augmented by the news that a tribal chief from that village has been taken into custody. He has been arrested.

Then, NBC reported more details on the setup of the ambush, which reportedly involved an initial false attack to draw the soldiers into a response whereupon they were attacked, whereupon they retreated about a mile before they were ambushed a second time.

Tonight, we have some more new reporting on the circumstances of these soldiers` deaths. Multiple U.S. officials telling NBC news tonight that U.S. Special Forces had been pursuing a senior terrorist leader in that region, a recruiter for an ISIS-linked group in Niger.

Quote: One theory is that the soldiers were gathering information about that target. And after learning his whereabouts, they decided to pursue him. But, quote, it is also possible that the 30 Nigerien troops the troops were accompanying decided to pursue the target themselves.

Now, General Dunford said one of the things they are investigating -- remember, it`s a Pentagon and FBI investigation. He said one of the things they are investigating is whether the mission changed as it unfolded.

But those are going to turn out to be important questions. Why did a reconnaissance mission turn into a kill or capture mission? Was it the idea of these U.S. soldiers who ended up being killed in this ambush? Was it the idea of their Nigerien counterparts?

Were they equipped for that kind of mission? Were they trained for it? Did potential backup know that that`s what the mission had changed to?

There are a lot of blank spaces in the story. The president remains absolutely unwilling to discuss the deaths of the soldiers or the circumstances under which they were killed. But little by little, it is now journalists who are filling in the gaps.

Watch this space.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: This morning, I went to physical therapy for my screwed up back. And because I`m a terrible person, I follow up going to the doctor with immediately then going to the diner next door for a gigantic unhealthy breakfast and a gallon of coffee, which is how I roll. If you don`t like me, don`t worry. I`ll be dead by 60.

But I was leaving there feeling kind of guilty about having done this, right? Finishing my gigantic breakfast, leaving the diner, and I got up from the counter. And the woman sitting next to me at the counter at the diner had not said anything to me the whole time. You know, nice enough. Whatever, we`re just eating our bacon and eggs.

She turns to me as I`m leaving and grabs me by the shoulder. She says please, can I just say one thing to you? And I was like, oh, God. Sure. What have you got?

Please tell Larry O`Donnell that he needs to run for president. And I was like, that I will do.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with the aforementioned Lawrence O`Donnell.

Good evening, Lawrence.

END

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