Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: November 27, 2017 Guest: Elizabeth Warren, Richard Cordray, Adam Schiff
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. I hope you got a little time off at Thanksgiving.
Susan and I accidently got a Turkey that wouldn`t fit inside our oven, which we did not realize until we had the Turkey next to the oven and we`re trying to cram it in. We ended up sticking the Turkey in the barbecue out in the yard instead and necessity is the mother of invention. It worked out great. We`re always going to barbecue the Turkey from here on out, even if it`s a little tiny one.
So I had a great Thanksgiving. I`m happy as a clam. It`s great to be back. And you know what? It`s nice to feel needed when you come back to work. And today, the news gods have obliged by making today insane as a news day.
Let`s start tonight just with the stuff that is breaking this evening, just breaking tonight.
Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, has become one of the most controversial cabinet officials in the Trump administration, which in this administration is really saying something. Aside from the bare bones questions about how exactly he got this job in the first place and what a lifelong Exxon employee might want to do to the U.S. State Department and questions about the implications of his unusually close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin, alongside all those baseline concerns about him taking over at State, alongside all that, has risen something approaching panic now among long-time foreign service professionals and senior diplomats, as Rex Tillerson has just taken a meat ax to the State Department particularly to its upper echelons.
We have reported on this extensively on this show but "The New York Times" just walloped the issue this weekend with this report. Diplomats sound the alarm as they are pushed out in droves.
Well, following that report from over the holiday break in the "New York Times", tonight, "Bloomberg News" is first to report that there`s about to be yet another high-profile resignation at the State Department but this time it`s the person who Rex Tillerson put in charge of redesigning the department. The redesign is what they have called it as they have forced out an entire generation of senior diplomats and foreign policy experts at State. The person who Rex Tillerson put in charge of remaking the State Department is out of a job as of tonight.
So, raise your hand if you think that means that Rex Tillerson is going to bring back the people they pushed out. They will restore the State Department to the previous strength. Raise your hand if you think that`s next.
But they have decided the person remaking the State Department under Tillerson`s leadership is gone.
Also tonight, a federal court has once again smacked down the Trump administration on one of its signature controversial issues. In July, President Trump announced on Twitter that he wanted to kick transgender service members out of the military. In late August, he finally got around to signing something on the subject beyond just sending a tweet about it.
By last month, the federal court was blocking the president`s transgender ban in no uncertain terms. The ruling declared, quote: there is absolutely no support for the claim the on going service of transgender people would have any negative effect on the military at all.
That ruling was from October. Tonight, that court has gun further and clarified the Trump administration has a deadline. They have until January 1st, they have 35 days from now to get their house on order on this subject to abandon the transgender ban idea and to make clear that trans recruits are welcome in the United States Armed Forces. That ruling coming tonight.
Also tonight, "The Washington Post" has broken kind of an inside out story that feels very close to our hearts here at this show at MSNBC. You might remember from this summer back in July, we reported about how somebody had forged a fake NSA document, and then shopped that document to us as if it were a very damning scoop about the Trump campaign colluding with the Russian government during the election, and the NSA knowing all about it.
We did not fall for that forged document, but it was unsettling to know people were shopping fake documents to try and screw up and discredit a news organization.
Well, a version of that has just happened to "The Washington Post", specifically to the reporting team who broke the blockbuster story a couple of weeks about multiple women in Alabama saying that Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore pursued them romantically or sexually when they were teenagers and he was a grown man in his 30s. According to "The Washington Post", over the last few weeks, a woman approached them, approached that reporting team with a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship she said she had with Roy Moore. A relationship she said led to her having an abortion when she was 15 years old.
Now, this woman came to "The Washington Post" with that story over the last couple weeks. That story does not appear to be true. And "The Post" reporters suss that out when they were doing their due diligence on that story, they were then further able to report that the woman who came to them with the story appears to be an activist associated with one of these conservative activist groups that in this case was trying to discredit the accusations against Roy Moore by discrediting the news organization that first reported them.
So, "The Washington Post" was the subject of that fraudulent effort, this conservative group impersonating a sexual assault victim basically in order to try to discredit reporting on sexual assault. Dark story but also a big validation for "The Washington post" and the way they did due diligence on that story.
And while we`re on the subject of consequential journalism, it has been a little more than a week since Richard Engel`s dramatic reporting on the Trump International Hotel in Panama. NBC News, Richard Engel and "Reuters" worked together on that reporting. You may recall that story turned up fairly brazen evidence that the Trump International Hotel in Panama was being run in part as a money laundering scheme, one that appears to have ties to Russian organized crime.
Now, that reporting on the Trump Hotel in Panama City, that came out a week ago Friday. Now, today, "The Associated Press" reports, quote: Owners of the Trump International Hotel in Panama are working to strip President Donald Trump`s name off the 70-story building and fire the hotel management company run by Trump`s family.
So, again, the subject of that Richard Engel scoop from a week and a half ago, that hotel now reportedly trying to strip Trump`s name off the building and get Trump`s business out of the business of running the management of that facility.
This, of course, follows news from last week that Trump`s name is also going to be stripped from the Trump SoHo Building that had financial difficulties, and which has also been linked to allegations of money laundering and organized crime.
On top of all that news today, ABC News reported today that a lawyer for Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn met with investigators from special counsel Robert Mueller`s office today. Now, that is ABC News reporting. NBC News has not confirmed.
But the reason it felt like another shoe was dropping when you heard that report today about Flynn`s lawyers meeting with Mueller, the reason that felt like another shoe dropping is because of the news that was first reported by "The New York Times" on Thanksgiving Day. News that Flynn`s lawyers used to be working together with White House lawyers collaborating on their defense strategies on the Russia investigation.
But apparently, last week, the day before Thanksgiving, Flynn`s legal team backed out of that arrangement with the White House and started to pursue things independently. Now, that landed like a bombshell on Thanksgiving Day.
What does it mean, exactly? It`s hard to say. Flynn`s lawyers pulling out of some sort of joint defense agreement with the White House. That may very well mean that Flynn has become a cooperating witness for the Mueller investigation. It`s possible.
It may mean that Flynn has entered into negotiations with Mueller`s team about some sort of plea deal. It may mean neither of those. Frankly, it might mean that Mike Flynn just got annoyed with the White House and with the White House Russia lawyers after we reported here on Wednesday night that the president is not going to be making any financial contributions to help Mike Flynn`s legal defense fund.
Maybe he just got annoyed about that. We don`t know. We don`t know what it means that Flynn`s lawyers and the White House lawyers are no longer working together on the Russia investigation and again, ABC News is alone thus far in this new report that Flynn`s legal team met with Mueller and his investigators today.
But it`s all very intriguing stuff and we`ve got Congressman Adam Schiff here live tonight to talk about the significance of may be going on in that part of the case. Adam Schiff, of course, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the House.
Now, we`re also on Senate watch tonight as Republicans try to wrangle the votes to pass a gigantic tax bill trying to wrangle those votes, right after the Congressional Budget Office just issued a report saying the bill will hurt poor people even more than was previously estimated. The biggest hits in this Republican bill really are reserved for the poorest people in the country. In the bill`s first year, everybody making less than $30,000 a year will get financially hurt, but the biggest whack will be taken at people who make less than $10,000 a year.
Think about that, the people who make less than $10,000 in income a year will be asked to pay the most.
By the time this thing would be fully implemented, everybody making less than $50,000 a year will be paying thousands of dollars more every year while people in the richest tax brackets, of course, will all pay less. Republicans don`t know if they got enough votes to pass this tax bill, but right now, right this second is when they are trying to line up those votes. So, the arm-twisting is happening and the fight is on.
And in the middle of all that going on, we`re also waiting on the Justice Department tonight. President Obama created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as part of Dodd-Frank, part of the post-Wall Street crash reforms. Before she was United States senator, Elizabeth Warren first came to Washington to advocate for and stand up that consumer protection agency.
Now, President Obama ended up appointing Richard Cordray to run that agency. Elizabeth Warren ended up becoming one of the highest profiles senators in the country. But at the consumer protection agency, under Richard Cordray`s leadership, that agency returned up nearly $12 billion to American consumers who got ripped off by credit card companies and banks and other financial institutions. He`s the only director that agency has ever had.
Well, Richard Cordray announced he would be leaving the agency. On Friday, the White House declared that the deputy director of the agency wouldn`t be allowed to take over and run the agency in his absence. And instead, the White House announced they were putting in their own person to be the acting director. And that turned out to be the White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, who has said that this agency, that he now maybe runs, he`s said that this agency is an abomination basically and it shouldn`t exist.
So, it`s been a weird day today, both in terms of being a lot of news breaking, but that story in Washington with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and maybe the White House is running it now or maybe the acting director who installed when Cordray last was running it. And we don`t -- that`s a very, very weird story. I`ve never, ever, ever, ever covered anything like this where a federal agency with something like 1,600 employees doesn`t know whose running it because there are competing claims for that title. We`ve never seen that before.
We got Richard Cordray live. He`s going to be joining us in just a second.
But I also got to tell you, we`re waiting on the Justice Department right now because a federal court is trying to decide who actually is running that agency now. The Justice Department is supposed to file their brief in the case tonight and so far, I mean, check your watch, but we don`t think they have done it, after 9:00.
So, the court will presumably rule once they got this filing from the Justice Department and everybody has been able to brief on both sides but as of tomorrow morning, who knows who runs that agency, who knows who was really running that agency today? It`s not at all clear that it would have been legal for the president to have sent his guy over there today to announce that he was in charge. Sure, you can say so but if it`s not legal, you`re not in charge.
So, I was really psyched today when I find out that we`re able to get Richard Cordray on the show tonight to talk about what in the holy heck is going on there. And then I found myself getting really interested to find out what Senator Elizabeth Warren might have to say about this, as well -- and then, and then, and then this happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to thank you because you`re very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here, although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: See how the president sort of turns there at the end. He`s like trying to get the it`s OK from the Native American veterans who are standing beside him. He does not appear to get that from them.
This is an event that was supposed to honor Navajo code talkers, World War II veteran heroes. The president used the event and used those veterans as a prop to instead sling a native American historical name at Senator Elizabeth Warren as an insult on a day when he must have had Elizabeth Warren on the brain.
Joining us now is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Senator, I really appreciate you being here tonight. Thank you so much.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: First, let me get your reaction to the president invoking you today at that event at the White House and insulting you basically by sarcastically calling you Pocahontas.
WARREN: You really do have to start with the whole setting. So, here it is a ceremony to honor these heroes, these men who did incredible work on behalf of our country back during World War II, probably saved countless lives of Americans, of our allies. Just an amazing story.
And all the president had to do was just make it through this ceremony and honor these wonderful people. And instead, what did he do? Had to throw out a racial slur. You know, he seems to think that if he keeps doing that, somehow he`s going to shut me up. It hadn`t worked in the past. It`s not going to work in the future and whether he likes it or not, I`m going to be out there and I`m going to keep talking about what he`s trying to do to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
What he`s trying to do right now on taxes. He wants to district from every bit of that but the truth is, he is putting American families at risk, and I`m going to speak up about it and so are a whole lot of other people. He`s not going to stop us.
MADDOW: How does it affect -- I know you`re saying he`s trying to shut you up, that he`s trying to cow you in someway. How does it affect your life and the way you go about your work as a senator when the president repeatedly often in settings that has nothing to do with you or any sort of purported debate with you, any sort of fight with you. He seems to go out of his way to go after you again and again and again and again.
And I just wonder what it`s like for you and your staff when you`re pursuing the things that you`re pursuing as a senator, how that interrupts your life? How that affects your work?
WARREN: You know, the truth is, Rachel, it doesn`t, because I got into this fight for reasons that are deeply personal to me and long-time held. For me, running for the United States Senate and before that, setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and before that, being involved during the financial crisis to try to bring some accountability to Wall Street. It was always about the same kind of thing, about trying to make sure that this government instead of just working for a thin slice at the top, instead of just working for a bunch of Wall Street banks was working for families, for hard working folks all across this country.
It -- I always feel deeply grateful. I grew up in a family that was a paycheck to paycheck family and we had really some tough times, but I grew up in an America investing in kids like me, that gave kids like me a chance to graduate from a state school that cost $50 a semester, that gave kids like me a chance to open a door and run through it and then another and then another.
I believe in that America and that`s why I`m in this fight. And so, Donald Trump can throw whatever he wants at me. It`s wrong. It`s ugly. It`s nasty. But it says a whole lot more about Donald Trump than it does about me or the fight that I`m in.
MADDOW: We`re going to be speaking with Richard Cordray in just a moment. He`s up here next on the show. Obviously, he`s the only director that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has ever had. You first proposed that agency in 2007, something like that.
WARREN: Yes, something like that.
MADDOW: I`ve never -- I`ve covered a lot of weird stuff in Washington. I sort of make it -- I feel like I specialize in covering weird things in Washington. I`ve never ever got anywhere near covering something like a federal agency, a good-sized federal agency with like 1,500, 1,600 employees functioning with two apparent contenders to be the head of the agency.
The White House thinks that they installed Mick Mulvaney as the acting director of the CFPB today. It would appear from Dodd/Frank, at least from plain reading of the Dodd/Trump legislation that set up the agency, that Richard Cordray should have essentially designated his -- the acting director when he left, when the deputy director of the agency was named.
What happened here and how do you think this is going to resolve?
WARREN: So, look, this is Donald Trump bringing his chaos to the consumer agency. When Dodd/Frank was written, Congress was really clear about this. They said there is a director and if the director is unavailable, Richard Cordray has resigned, then the deputy director automatically becomes the acting director.
Richard Cordray doesn`t name anyone. There is no special ceremony. There is not thing that has to happen. It`s what Congress designated as the succession plan for the consumer agency.
Now, Donald Trump says, but there is a vacancies act that was passed decades before, and I think the Vacancy Act lets me put in a different director.
Well, the problem with that is the Vacancy Act, when it was passed, said it applied to all the existing agencies. But going forward, it would apply in effect that`s what Congress wanted it to do, kind of as the default position. But Congress could designate its own succession plan if that`s what Congress wanted to do.
Well, interestingly enough, go back and look at the legislative history when they were building the CFPB. At one point, Congress set it up to say, we`re going to use the Vacancy Act and then in the final version, the one everybody voted on, the one that got signed into law, Congress didn`t use the Vacancy Act. They said, we`re going to designate the succession plan.
So, Leandra English, the woman who had been the deputy director became the acting director. That`s just simply what Dodd/Frank says and let me just make the point, there is a darn good reason for that. When Congress made the change and said, we`re going to -- we`re going to do this ourselves, what they were really saying is we want to take this agency, which has this really tough job of taking on giant Wall Street banks. We want to take this agency and push it as far away from politics as we can.
The banking regulators, all of them, the Fed, the OCC, the FDIC and the consumer agency, we need to try to insulate them as much as possible so these giant Wall Street banks don`t lean on Congress and in turn, Congress leans on the agency.
MADDOW: Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, thank you for making time for us tonight. You came up in the news in lots of different ways. Thanks for helping us understand your take on this. We got Richard Cordray up next. Much appreciated.
WARREN: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Richard Cordray who just left the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau where there was one of the weirdest things that I have ever seen happened in an agency, unfolding over the course of the day and into the night tonight. There is a real question as to who is going to physically show up and try to run that agency in the morning, and there is a question as to what happens if two people physically try to claim the same office. How this gets resolved.
Richard Cordray is here next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: When you start a new job, there`s lots of ways you can endear yourself to your new colleagues, particularly if you`re a new boss. But it`s not usually the best of signs that part of your first day is spent reassuring your colleagues that you will not, quote, set the place on fire or blow it up or lock the doors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICK MULVANEY, OMB DIRECTOR: Rumors that I`m going to set the place on fire or blow it up or lock the doors are completely false.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is the person who says he is the new boss at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, although that is not at all clear, or it is not at all clear that that is legally true.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney says that he is the boss at this consumer protection agency because President Trump declared on Friday that he could install an acting director of his own choosing.
But as we just heard from Senator Elizabeth Warren, who came up with a whole idea for this agency in the first place, the law that created this agency doesn`t say the president just gets to install whoever he wants as an acting director. The law says there is a line of succession at the agency and if the director leaves, then the deputy director becomes the acting director of that agency. And there`s somebody in that job, a woman named Leandra English. She`s deputy director. She`s been at agency from the beginning.
So, who is in charge? Who gets to decide? We have two competing claims to the leadership of that agency. I`ve never seen this ever before in the time that I`ve been covering American governance and in all of the history I read about American governance. Never seen this.
Yesterday, the deputy director, the person who you think would be the acting director, she filed a lawsuit in federal court trying to block the president`s pick from taking the job. Tonight, we don`t even know the status of that. Tonight, we are waiting for the Justice Department to file their response to that in federal court. It`s well after 9:00 p.m. on the East Coast and so far, we don`t think that filing has been delivered. It`s nuts.
Meanwhile, we`re joined by somebody who is at the very, very heart of this story. Richard Cordray is the very newly former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Mr. Cordray, thank you very much for being here.
RICHARD CORDRAY. FORMER DIRECTOR, CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU: My pleasure.
MADDOW: Let me ask, first of all, I guess, to the point of what this news is right now. Do you think that Leandra English should go to the CFPB tomorrow and go sit in your office and act as the acting director of the agency as Mick did today or should she stay away?
CORDRAY: So, what I would say is I think that the law and I heard Senator Warren discussing it I thought was just right. The law is clear here. It says that the director that was me on Friday shall appoint a deputy director. I did that.
It then says very clearly and simply that if the deputy director is -- there`s an absence or unavailability of the director, the deputy director becomes the acting director. That`s what Ms. English has now done.
And this is the kind of disagreement that involves two different laws. They conflict with one another. The right place to hash that out is in the courts, which is where it is now.
It shouldn`t be decided by name-calling and tweets and insults. It should be decided by people presenting their argument and a judge thinking over. This judge obviously is looking at it overnight so recognizes it`s a serious issue, and it will ultimately be resolved.
If the trial courts` decision is something one party or another disagrees with, it will go to the court of appeals. And the court of appeals will decide it. But that`s a very ordinarily process that`s appropriate.
MADDOW: That is an orderly process that you described. It`s not what is happening, though, simply because the White House pick, budget director, Mr. Mulvaney, has showed up and he made a big show out of bringing everybody donuts and he held a press availability and announced hiring freeze and essentially an activity freeze for the agency, and he started talking about Ms. English, saying while she didn`t show up today in regular business life, that would mean you wouldn`t have a job when you came back the next day.
I mean, the White House is not pursuing this in an orderly -- in the kind of orderly fashion you just described. And so, does that change the calculus at least as far as you`re concerned in terms of how to fight for this position?
CORDRAY: So, I can`t speak to or read the minds of the people at the White House, but especially, as I said, I think the law is pretty clear on this. It says that the deputy director shall act as the director until a nominee is presented to the Senate and confirmed. And you`ll remember, Rachel, I went through that process in my case I was held up for almost two years but ultimately was confirmed by 66 votes.
But that`s an orderly process. People get a chance to vet that nominee. They get a chance to hear the views and really weigh and consider it.
This is a very fast process and the statute provided for the fast process to be handled by having the deputy director step in and be there until the president nominates and gets somebody confirmed. That will happen here eventually, but it doesn`t help us right now.
MADDOW: Do you have any -- any regret? Do you have any regret about leaving, about your decision to leave the agency given that this is what has happened in the wake of your departure and we are having not just this very unusual fight, but a lot of chaos and incredibly aggressive move by the White House to put somebody in there who`s made no bones about the fact that he really doesn`t want the agency to exist.
Does the fact that this is what followed in the wake of your decision make you regret your decision at all?
CORDRAY: No, I don`t, because that`s simply a matter of timing. It was very clear my term runs out in the part of next year. It was a few more months I could have stayed at the agency, but the same issue would have arisen then. The Trump administration ultimately will be able to present a nominee and the Senate will either confirm them or not confirm them, in which case that process will go on. So, that was just a matter of timing.
I stayed this year and fought being fired. You`ll remember Rachel for months, I went into the office in the morning and a lot of people talked about me being fired. I didn`t know if that might happen by the evening.
I stayed there because there was important work to do on consumer protection. We worked on the arbitration rule. You know that fight. Went to a 50/50 vote in the Senate and we worked on a payday lending rule that I think is a very important rule that is now in place.
What happens in the future, you know, is hard to say. My hope and expectation is the consumer will be here 50 years from now, 100 years from now, doing the same work we set up to do. It`s good work.
It`s important work for people and families all over this country who needs somebody standing on their side, making sure they are treated fairly, giving them a voice when they do get mistreated or cheated, that they can have a problem they can bring to the bureau and get it fixed. I think that`s very important work and I would be very surprised to see the Trump administration making a conscious decision to undo consumer protections for people that that want, that they need and that they deserve.
MADDOW: Richard Cordray, the immediate former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the only director that agency has ever had, the agency now just in a very strange situation with this stand off between dueling maybe directors. Mr. Cordray, thank you very much for your service in government. I know you`ve been through some really acrimonious times and please stay in touch as you make your future decision, sir. I appreciate it.
CORDRAY: Thank you. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: We got some big news from another part of what`s weird in Washington right now. Congressman Adam Schiff is the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the House. He`s here in studio with us tonight. That`s coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, heat of the summer, heat of the U.S. presidential race, a coup erupted in the nation of Turkey. They were trying to take over the government from the elected autocrat in charge, President Erdogan in Turkey.
As that croup was playing out in Turkey, over here in the U.S., a key member of the Donald Trump for president campaign just so happened to be giving a speech in Ohio. This was General Mike Flynn, the president`s future national security advisor as the coup was unfolding in Turkey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There is an on going coup going on in Turkey right now. Right now. The Turkish military over -- anybody that`s first time of paying attention, they have been -- they have been, you know, just excised for many years by what really became a secular country, sort of a regular sort of nation and then began to move towards Islamist. This is Turkey with Erdogan.
So, I`m going to be very fascinated to see what happens. One of the things that the military immediately says, we recognize our responsibilities with NATO, we recognize our responsibilities with the United Nations, we want to make sure the world knows we are -- we want to be seen as a secular nation. This is the military. So, yes, that is worth clapping for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is worth clapping for.
So, that`s Mike Flynn speaking July last year. That coup against Turkey`s government, yes, that`s worth -- that`s worth clapping for.
Of course, the coup was crushed. And then by the time our owner election day rolled around four months later, Mike Flynn had done a complete 180 on that issue. By our election day, he wasn`t criticizing Erdogan, the Turkish president, for sliding toward Islamism and cheering for the coup against Erdogan.
By the day of our election in November, there was Mike Flynn writing an op- ed in support of Erdogan, the Turkish president, in support of his Turkish government and leveling some over the top criticism at a cleric who lives in the United States who the Turkish government blamed for starting the croup.
So, in four months, Mike Flynn went from yes, let`s crap for the coup to, you know, we really ought to think about extraditing this terrible monster who Turkey says started that coup. Total 180 in four months. What changed?
Well, for starters, in the middle of the two events, Mike Flynn got paid. He got paid over half a million dollars to lobby for the Turkish government, a fact he disclosed only after he was fired as Trump`s national security advisor. And failing to register as a foreign agent for the Turkish government is one of the many reasons Mike Flynn find finds himself in what looks like very serious legal jeopardy.
In March, March 2017, a former CIA director named James Woolsey told "The Wall Street Journal" that during the campaign, in September of 2016, he had gone to a meeting in New York City with a bunch of Turkish government officials and Mike Flynn. And at that meeting, he says he overheard them talking about forcibly removing that cleric from the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I showed up and there were several Turks and several Americans there. There was some discussion, serious discussion of finding someway to move Mr. Gulen out of the United States to Turkey.
You might call it brainstorming, but it was brainstorming about a very serious matter that would pretty clearly be a violation of law. But it was a serious and troubling discussion, but it did not -- repeat not -- rise to the level of a concrete, in my portion of being in the room. It did not rise to the level of being a specific plan to under take a felonious act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Not a specific plan, more of a brainstorming session about a felonious act.
But then, early this month, "The Wall Street Journal" reported that Robert Mueller was investigating a second meeting, a follow up meeting between Mike Flynn and those Turkish officials this time in December, after the election, during the transition the transition where the plan seemed a lot more fully formed.
At that meeting, quote: The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island OF Imrali. In exchange for facilitating this, Mike Flynn and his son were reportedly to be paid as much as $15 million.
Now, Mike Flynn`s lawyer says those allegations are false. But we know that Robert Mueller is looking into those two meetings. We also know that Robert Mueller is looking into the possible obstruction of justice by the president. For him, allegedly trying to get the FBI to back off the Flynn investigation and then firing FBI Director James Comey when that didn`t happen.
And on that point, there is something I need help with. Former CIA Director James Woolsey, the witness to the alleged kidnapping plan, he has already spoken to Robert Mueller.
According to "Politico", he over the holiday break, over the Thanksgiving break, he reportedly engaged in a, quote, lengthy conversation with President Trump at his table at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night. What were James Woolsey and Donald Trump talking about at length at Mar-a-Lago? We don`t know.
A spokesman for Mr. Woolsey says his client has served four presidents. He`s never communicated the contents of his conversations with any of them to a third party and he doesn`t intend to start now.
James Woolsey doesn`t serve Donald Trump right now, any more than any of us do. He`s a private citizen. So, it`s not like he`s giving official advice.
James Woolsey also declined any further comment to any of our follow-up questions that we posed today.
I suspect, though, that that meeting, too, may end up being of real interest to investigators, though, right? If the president finds himself in the crosshairs for potentially obstructing justice when it comes to the federal investigation of Mike Flynn, and if James Woolsey turns out to be a witness to some of what Flynn is being investigated for, then why should that potential witness be talking at length to the guy who may be on the hook for obstructing justice in Flynn`s case.
I need help with this. Hold on.
MADDOW: Joining us now here in studio is Congressman Adam Schiff. He`s the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives.
Congressman, thank you very much for being here.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: Since we last spoke. The campaign chairman for this president has been indicted, as has his deputy, Rick Gates. We`ve had a lot of other journalistic news break about Manafort, Flynn, Gates and others.
So, I realize you never talk about anything in terms of the on going investigation. You certainly can`t talk about classified matters. But I want your help on the significance some of this stuff.
First, let me ask you about the reports that we had over Thanksgiving break that General Mike Flynn, retired General Mike Flynn`s legal team has told the White House that they will no longer coordinate with them, no longer work with them in terms of the White House legal defense on the Russia investigation and Flynn`s legal defense. They have now decided to take different paths.
What does that mean?
SCHIFF: I think that what it likely means is that the Flynn investigation is at a critical point. Where he will be indicted or he`s going to agree to some plea agreement to potentially with lesser charges towards him or his son in exchange for cooperation. And whether this is a written joint defense agreement or an oral one, basically, there is now a potential conflict of interest between his interest and his son`s and the rest of the team.
SCHIFF: You would expect that he and others around the White House would be in that kind of joint defense, gives them the ability to coordinate their efforts to review documents to discuss us all and effectively shield it by attorney client privilege. But once one of those people start entering into serious discussions and negotiations that may put them in a conflict, in other words, if he has something to say about any of the others, then he needs to opt out of that agreement and that may very well be what`s happening.
MADDOW: A lot of what is being reported about Flynn`s potential legal jeopardy has been about not necessarily his relationship about Russia, although there is certainly a lot there as well, but about his relationship with Turkey. He did paid work on behalf of the government of Turkey. He belatedly retroactively registered as a foreign agent after he had been forced to resign from the White House.
Your investigation on the House intelligence committee, are you limited to looking just at Russia specifically or is any of these issues about Turkey or any potential foreign governments, have any of those been faulted into your work?
SCHIFF: Well, I wish that they were because reality is the government reform committee is not aggressively pursuing this. The chairman is not looking at things. He has a new definition of the jurisdiction of his committee and if it involves potentially legality, I guess the Government Reform Committee is no longer in the business of oversight.
MADDOW: This is Chairman Trey Gowdy of the --
SCHIFF: Yes. That`s a startling different interpretation than during Benghazi. But nonetheless, it is what it is. Their committee is really not aggressively investigating this but neither is ours.
Now, we have dozens of witnesses that we still need to bring in central to the Russian investigation that we haven`t gotten approval to bring before the committee, let alone witnesses that would go to whether Flynn was involved in an extrajudicial rendering of this cleric.
MADDOW: AKA kidnapping.
SCHIFF: Kidnapping, as well as receipt of foreign funds and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign power. Someone needs to look at this in Congress. It can`t be or shouldn`t be just Bob Mueller for the purpose of prosecution. We ought to look at this for purposes of oversight and purpose of telling the country what he did and what happened. But right now, that is really not happening.
MADDOW: Speaking of witnesses in your committee, you are a tonight have two very controversial, very interesting witnesses come before the committee.
If you could stick with us for just a second --
MADDOW: We`ll take a break and come back with Congressman Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.
We`ll be right back with him right after this.
MADDOW: -- Adam Schiff. He is the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thank you for sticking with us.
SCHIFF: Of course.
MADDOW: This Thursday, correct me if I`m wrong, I believe that your committee is hearing behind closed doors from Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater Security Firm who had an interesting cameo role in some backchannel contacts with the Russian government during the campaign, and also, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Am I right that you`re hearing from both of those witnesses on the same day?
SCHIFF: Well, I can only confirm one of those interviews that with the attorney general because Justice Department has already made it public that he`s going to appear before us, which, you know, will give us a chance to probe deeper in terms of his contacts with Papadopoulos and the Russians that he met with, but also what`s happened since. And of the things that most disturbs me frankly is the White House violating Department of Justice policy and their own policy by intervening to kick start this Uranium One investigation, by freeing this witness of this gag rule.
This is what they do in emergency democracies. They pervert the justice system to try to prosecute their vanquished rival. So, I`ll be interested to know what was the communication, by whom, what did they say? How much of an injunction to do this was it? But also, to probe further this entertaining of the idea of appointing a special counsel which, again, would be I think a terrible abuse of the independence of the Justice Department.
MADDOW: And you suspect that the White House improperly intervened with the workings of the Justice Department on both those matters?
SCHIFF: Well, I think if they intervened at all, it was improper. And I think the White House acknowledged that they did, and this is the problem. You know? One by one, we see these policies and norms and rules set up post-Watergate, many of them, to protect the institutions being broken down.
But by the crush of things this administration is doing, we lose sight of just how many of the checks and balances are being eroded.
MADDOW: Congressman Schiff is the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the House. Thank you, sir. It`s really nice to have you here.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Looking ahead to tomorrow in Washington, we are expecting round two of what is a very, very, very unusual story, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau believes it has an acting director, deputy director of the agency who was left there when Richard Cordray had his last day at work on Friday. That`s one person who looks like she`s running the agency.
The White House has installed someone else. The director of Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, who says that he is running the agency.
We have been watching over the course of this hour, over the course of this evening, to see if a federal court in Washington might take action to settle this matter. That appears not to have happened. And so, we don`t know what`s going to happen as of 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.
The claim for how that agency should be run, who should be the acting director, is set down in law, in the law that created that agency which is called Dodd/Frank. The Frank in Dodd/Frank is Barney Frank, who is a guest on "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL" which starts right now.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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