Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: November 30, 2017 Guest: Joyce Vance, Jared Bernstein, Jim Himes
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
We`ve been working all day on the assumption that by this time this evening, quite possibly in this hour, during our show, we`d be looking at one of these late-night, showdown, monumental, down to the wire votes in Washington. That`s what we`ve been expecting all day. As of right now, that is not happening, although we have literally got reporters standing by on-scene in the event this gets started up again.
The details on why they`re not voting right now and what went wrong in Republican`s plan to try to pass gigantic legislation tonight, the first legislation they will have passed in the Trump administration, those details about what went wrong, that story about what`s happened over the course of tonight, it`s pretty dramatic. We`re going to have that story coming up in a second.
I also want to let you know that Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified today to the House Intelligence Committee. He testified behind closed doors. But after the attorney general`s testimony was over, California Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on that committee, he came out of the room and talked to the press about what had happened inside with the attorney general. He said he needed to express his concerns about what had just happened.
Basically, Congressman Schiff is setting off a little alarm bell today. Again, that was closed door testimony by Attorney General Sessions, but Congressman Schiff came out and told reporters today that behind those closed doors, he said he asked the attorney general whether President Trump had ever instructed him to take action that he believed would hinder the Russia investigation, Congressman Schiff raising the alarm today over the fact that he says the attorney general is refusing to answer that question about whether the president ever asked him to do that.
Now, obviously, if the president did what Congressman Schiff asked about, if the president of the United States asked the attorney general to hinder an ongoing criminal investigation, that would be a criminal act by the president. There is no way the attorney general or the president could therefore claim that something like that would be covered by executive privilege. So, again, we didn`t have access directly to that testimony from the attorney general today, but the congressman says something very serious happened behind closed doors with the attorney general refusing to answer that very direct question.
So, we`ll have more on that coming up tonight. I think that is something that the attorney general or Justice Department is going to have to clean up, in some way, or address in some way, or try to deny it, because if what happened under oath today is -- went the way Congressman Schiff said it did, that`s going to be a problem for the administration. We will be back to that story a little later on.
I also want to interrupt myself by telling you just in the last couple minutes, "The New York times" has just run a story, just published a story on a separate but related matter. Here`s the lead that "The New York Times" just published.
Quote, President Trump over the summer repeatedly urged senior Senate Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to end that committee`s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. "The New York Times" publishing this just a few minutes ago, that`s according to half a dozen lawmakers and aides.
So, again, this is just posted. We are just digging into this. I`ll let you know what we`re able to get from this new report in terms of whether we may be able to get in touch with one of these reporters, as well.
There actually is a significant number of developments today in the Robert Mueller investigation and the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the election last year, and whether the Trump campaign was involved in that.
Today, the Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who has been charged in a 12-count felony indictment now, he appears today to have successfully negotiated a bail agreement with prosecutors. Now, not all of the court filings related to the bail negotiations were unsealed today but based on what we can see, it appears that Paul Manafort will now be let off House arrest, he`ll be allowed to travel within the United States but not internationally. It appears that he will also get to drop his ankle bracelet.
In exchange for that freedom, the Trump campaign chairman has listed over $10 million in Florida and New York real estate that apparently would be forfeited -- oh, and Virginia real estate, as well, all real estate that would be forfeited to the government if Manafort decided to rabbit and not show up to court. So, again, Paul Manafort apparently reaching a bail agreement with the government today.
In other Robert Mueller investigation news, multiple news organizations, including NBC, have now confirmed that White House senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has been interviewed by Robert Mueller`s prosecutors. Now, there are still conflicting reports as to what Mueller`s prosecutors interviewed Jared Kushner about. Some reports say he was only interviewed about Mike Flynn. Other sources have described other topics of conversation between Kushner and the Mueller team.
But regardless of what exactly Mueller`s investigators talked to Kushner about, the fact the interview took place, the investigation reaches into the very top levels of serving White House officials, and not incidentally, reaches into the president`s immediate family, as well. To the extent that news like that might freak out the White House or Republican supporters of the president, we were able to confirm tonight that the budget for the Robert Mueller investigation, what they have spent so far in the special counsel`s office, that information will be released next week.
Whatever that number is, however much the Mueller team has spent, rest assured that the Trump White House and Trump supporting Republicans in Congress will faint at the sight of that number. No matter what it is. Whatever it is they will decide that it is way, way, too much to spend and as a nation, we definitely can`t afford to keep investigating this Russia thing anymore and so the Mueller investigation must be shut down.
Literally, if they report they`ve spent $2.95, there will be a Republican senator who pretends to faint at the size, the gargantuan size of that number. If you want to save yourself time for next week, you can go ahead and write those new stories now for when those numbers come out.
Today, the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, was on Capitol Hill, as well, and under questioning about the attack on last year`s election by the Russian government, the FBI director made a surprise announcement today. He announced, without warning, without fanfare, that under his leadership, the FBI has started a new multiagency task force to combat foreign influence in the United States, including in U.S. elections.
We had no advance notice that the FBI director was going to make that kind of announcement. We`ve had no supportive reporting or leaks or background prep from any officials that this kind of effort was under way or that it was going to be announced today. But this is a big deal, right? I mean, this is the first news we have had of any part of the government under the Trump administration doing anything at all to try to defend the country against the kind of Russian incursion we had into the elections last year.
This is the first time we`ve heard of them doing anything about that. And you want to hear something funny about this? So -- we have covered the Russia attack on our election last year a lot on this show, as you know. We cover this stuff closely. Everybody that works on the show is very well-versed in that story and what`s already known and therefore what counts as new news. That`s just what happens when you cover something intensively in an ongoing way and we cover this story intensively.
We were shocked today on the staff of this show to hear this announcement from the FBI Director Christopher Wray, that there is this new task force. We`d never heard anything like this. We had no idea it was coming. We have this story down pat, trust me.
As soon as the FBI director made this announcement in this testimony on Capitol Hill today, we immediately called the FBI. What? What are you talking about?
This seems like a very big deal. We had no idea anything like this was happening. So, we posed some questions to the FBI.
Has the FBI or the Justice Department put out a fact sheet on Director Wray`s new foreign influence task force? When was it formed? What is it stated mission?
How large is it? How many different divisions does it involve? Is it working in convention with other arms of government?
Directory Wray has mentioned that this task force has international partners. Who are the international partners? How are they working in tandem with Director Wray`s task force?
By the way, we`re on the air tonight at 9:00, we would love to know any of these answers. Any of them? Can you just -- this is the response we got from the FBI.
This is an issue the FBI`s been working on for awhile. We don`t have any other details for you.
That`s all they told us.
So, maybe we, the American public, just learned something big today about this moment in modern American history, where we are in the aftermath of Russia interfering in our presidential election and we`re now having a huge counterintelligence investigation into whether the winning presidential campaign was in cahoots with Russia during this attack, right?
Maybe there was huge news today, that the FBI has a new multiagency and indeed, multinational effort under way to counter foreign influence in the United States after the debacle with last year`s presidential elections when all of these Russians, all 19 of them, at least, made their way into the Trump campaign to some degree.
Maybe there is some big new effort we just learned about today in American law enforcement and American governance to respond to that. It`s possible.
But if the FBI is mounting that big new effort, I can tell you not a single thing about it. Not a single detail. No further details for you at this time.
So, we will keep poking at this. We`ll keep trying to figure it out. I expect they will continue to give us nothing for quite some time.
On the House side of Capitol Hill today, the fate of senior Democratic Congressman John Conyers became even more precarious today. We reported last night that not only has Congressman Conyers announced that he`ll step down from his position as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Last night, we reported that he also plans to announce in January that he will not run for re-election next year.
Now, that was the news as of last night. But today, despite that word from his Conyers camp, that he won`t run for reelection, today, the pressure on him got considerably pressure on him got considerably stronger, when the full leadership of the Democratic Party in the House said not just that the sexual harassment allegations against John Conyers should be investigated, today, the Democratic leadership in the House moved on from that position to say, in fact, that John Conyers should resign. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn all now calling for John Conyers` resignation.
Congressman Conyers is 88 years old. He was reportedly hospitalized today for stress-related illness, at home in Michigan. So, it remains to be seen how and when the congressman will make this decision, but the pressure on him is now quite intense.
All that said, here`s what`s going on right now, tonight, in terms of the drama that we have been watching for and expecting in Washington. In an important sense, what has gone wrong tonight for Republicans in Washington all has to do with this man, who is our nation`s treasury secretary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INTERVIEWER: One thing that I`d like to clear up first and foremost is how you pronounce your name because I heard it pronounced 15 different ways by people who swear they know your family. Mnuchin?
STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I`ll go with Mnuchin.
INTERVIEWER: OK. Steven Mnuchin, just for the record, so we clear it up and we get it right on our air from you --
MNUCHIN: And it`s Steven, not Steve.
INTERVIEWER: Steven Mnuchin, just so people know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You guys, it`s Steven. It`s not Steve. It`s Steven. Steven Mnuchin.
He was a fundraiser for the Donald Trump campaign. He has no background in public service. He did make a ton of money in the financial crisis foreclosing on low-income Californians which led to marches like this on his 23,000-square foot California mansion. Marches led by some of the people he was turfing out onto the street because of the Wall Street collapse.
Steve Mnuchin is a money guy and that has felt very true in his tenure as treasury secretary. Our highest profile experience of him as a cabinet secretary is probably a tie between two different things, but they are both kind of money face forward events. The first high profile experience we had him as a cabinet secretary was when he took his new bride to Fort Knox to see the money. Literally, he brought her to Fort Knox to inspect the gold.
The secretary and his wife flew to Kentucky to have experience on Air Force jet because why not? Military jets cost more than private jets do, and that was literally a trip just to look at money, so, that was kind of perfect.
The other high-profile experience we had of our treasury secretary was captured in this lovely diptych of photos from the U.S. Mint. These are now very famous photos. They probably require no further discussion on anyone`s part, but -- you know, this is how we experience him.
The nation`s treasury secretary, that is a job that involves dealing with money. You get to put your name on the money, if you`re treasury secretary, which is what that photo opportunity at the Mint was all about. Clearly, he likes touching money. And then the handling money and looking at money part of his job.
And you can`t fault him for that, I guess. For people who enjoy looking at, touching and frolicking among money, Treasury is probably the ideal job in government. But beyond just that, you know, stuff that`s fun to do with your wife at work, apparently, there are other things you`re supposed to do as treasury secretary that are about money, but they don`t involve just playing with it.
And that tonight is what has become a very big last-minute problem for Republicans in Washington and that story is next.
MADDOW: Last week, Republicans unveiled their 551-page long tax bill. That`s a big piece of legislation. That would have a dramatic effect on the economy of the sole economic super power in the world.
The Republicans are trying to pass the tax bill without holding any hearings on it. They unveiled it last week. They want to vote on it now, right away. No debate. No hearings.
The whole strategy is just to go fast and don`t talk about it, and that, of course, is leading to expected criticism from expected quarters. This was the headline, for example, on the lead editorial in "The New York Times" today. The Senate is rushing to pass its tax bill because it stinks.
But even though Republicans are trying to go very fast, and they`re not holding hearings and they`re not holding any debate, even -- just in the past week, since they unveiled this thing, that`s been enough opportunity for the Congressional Budget Office, which is nonpartisan, and for some outside policy groups to start doing the math on what it is that Republicans are proposing. When the CBO looked at it, for example, they found that the Republican bill will result in 13 million Americans being thrown off health insurance altogether. Also, everybody who still has health insurance coverage will see their premiums spike because of the Republican tax bill.
CBO analysis found the Republican plan will add $1.4 trillion to the deficit. In terms of who it helps and who it hurts, well, you know exactly who it helps but will actually represent a tax increase, an increase for most people at the lower end of the income spectrum. The smaller your income, the worse you will get hit by this bill. And for the middle class, this Republican bill will raise your taxes. It will raise taxes on most middle class families.
Now, no matter how fast you`re trying to vote on this, those are bad numbers. That looks really bad. And Republicans like the idea of getting something passed because they have passed no legislation since Trump has been president. But this thing, they are getting passed, it is quite, radically unpopular. People really hate it.
And so, Republicans have been hoping that new, better, shinier numbers might come out about this. The Congressional Budget Office isn`t the only nonpartisan government office that crunches the numbers on things like this. For tax bills, there is also system called the Joint Committee on Taxation.
And we`ve been waiting to hear from them and Republicans have been really hoping they would put out their report on the bill, and the Joint Committee on Taxation, their report would be better. They wanted that committee to do their analysis to affect the Republicans` greatest hopes, and optimism, about all good things that might happen because of this tax bill. They should score it that way.
Well, that report is now out. It does use the magic dynamic scoring that the Republicans were so excited about with this report. But it turns out, even with the magic dynamic scoring, the numbers are still terrible. Even these very optimistic, new dynamically scored figures that are just out from the Joint Committee on Taxation, they still say what the Republicans are doing with this tax bill will add a trillion dollars to the debt.
And the way you get to that terrible outcome of a new trillion dollars in debt is by transferring a ton of wealth from the middle class to people who are already the wealthiest people in the country. It`s just an uncomplicated transfer. Families making between $40,000 and $50,000 a year will pay $5.3 billion more in taxes, so, people making over a million dollars a year can pay $5.8 million less in taxes. Why should people making 40 grand a year get a huge tax hike for any purpose? Let alone for that purpose?
So, this is hard to sell. These are very bad numbers. Bad numbers that have come out since the Republicans` bill has become public and they continued right up until tonight when they wanted to be voting, because they thought they`d get magic numbers that make it look good tonight.
Well, that was what we thought was going to happen over the course of today, and into tonight, until things went off the rails a little bit at the last minute. And here is what happened and what went wrong and what that has to do with the treasury secretary. Fighting about numbers, fighting about math is something that everybody in Washington has done a lot of.
Usually what happens when one party`s legislation gets really bad numbers like this, when the math comes out and just looks terrible is that you, you know, try to make your own math. Try to come up with different math. You take issue with the outside policy groups who evaluated your legislation, you say, no, they`re biased, they`re dumb, don`t pay attention to their numbers.
You might even take issue with the numbers and take issue with the professional expert reports produced by the CBO and Joint Committee on Taxation. You say, yes, I know, those supposedly bipartisan expert numbers, but those people are terrible. They do terrible work, too. Don`t pay any attention to those numbers.
I mean, usually, when you want to fight a fight like this, you try to discredit outside numbers, you try to discredit the bipartisan numbers, and then you come up with your own numbers. You say, sure, everybody else`s math says this is going to be a terrible thing we`re going to do to the country, but look, we have our own numbers from our own party, the administration has produced its own math and their numbers make this look great.
That`s usually how this goes. That`s the standard plot line for bad, stupid, uninformed amathematical fights in Washington over financially ruinous proposed legislation. We have a plotline for that. We know how it goes.
And at one level, it seems pretty clear that Steven Mnuchin, our treasury secretary, seems clear that he recognizes this is where he comes in. I think he knows this is the part where he`s supposed to come out and say, don`t worry -- don`t worry about these other numbers, I got really good numbers right here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MNUCHIN: We`re running a lot of numbers. I think you`ve heard me talk about, we believe in dynamic, not static, scoring. I think that`s something that`s very important. We have over 100 people in the tax group in a modeling area, and they`re working around the clock on running scenarios for us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Over 100 people in the tax group, the modeling area, working around the clock. That was Steven Mnuchin. Treasury secretary speaking with CNBC.
But this is a thing he says frequently. He says this over and over again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MNUCHIN: We`re working on lots of details, as to this, we have over 100 people in the Treasury that have been working on tax and scoring lots of different scenarios.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Steven Mnuchin, treasury secretary, says he has over 100 people in the tax group and the modeling area, they`re working around the clock on these scenarios and they`ll show this tax bill actually pays for itself. It doesn`t add a trillion dollars to the deficit. No, this thing`s free.
That`s what he`s been saying. It turns out that`s not true. And I`m not taking issue with, like, what the numbers are here. I mean, it turns out when he says we`ve been working on this in the Treasury Department -- nobody`s actually been working on that in the Treasury Department.
Here`s Alan Rappeport writing in "The New York Times", quote: In pitching the $1.5 trillion tax overall, Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, has said repeatedly that the plan will pay for itself and that over 100 people in Treasury are working around the clock on running scenarios for us. However, quote: Those inside Treasury Office of Tax Policy, which Mr. Mnuchin credited with running these models, say they`re not working on the type of analysis that he has mentioned.
An economist at the Office of Tax Analysis who spoke on the condition of anonymity, so as not to jeopardize his job tells "The New York Times" that Treasury hasn`t released a dynamic analysis showing that the tax plan would be paid for with economic growth because, quote, one does not exist.
They didn`t do this work he says they`ve been doing. And now, this is a big problem for the Trump administration and for the Republican Party, because all the outside groups and all the bipartisan groups are saying what the Republicans are doing with this tax thing is going to add a trillion dollars, or a trillion and a half dollars to the deficit.
To combat that deadly argument, Republicans are supposed to be getting magic numbers from Steve Mnuchin that say, no, no, no, everything`s fine, it`s free. He`s been saying for months that he has more than 100 people working around the clock who are going to produce these magic numbers to say this is free and doesn`t add anything to the deficit. It turns out nobody has been working on these magic numbers.
And it`s not just an abstract problem. They have promised that they would get these magic numbers to specific Republican senators who were apparently counting on them. Quote: Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, says Treasury Department officials told him last week he`d be provided a Treasury analysis before the full Senate considered the bill.
Senator Corker now says that Treasury was unable to deliver on that promise. The numbers are not coming. They didn`t do the work.
The Treasury Department didn`t even try to do this. The Trump administration never did any of the math. They never produced any analysis of what this tax thing would cost. Even though they said they were working on it, they didn`t.
And in addition to the political problem that creates for them, in addition to the wonderment that creates in us all, that they wanted to do a $1.5 trillion thing without ever doing the math on it. In addition to the wonderment problem, and the political problem, this is also maybe creating a problem for Steven Mnuchin, because the inspector general of the Treasury Department has announced tonight that he`s opened an inquiry into what happened here, what happened to the Treasury`s supposed analysis of this tax plan.
Now that we know that the dog ate that homework and those numbers aren`t coming and now that we`ve got the latest bipartisan analysis saying even in a best case optimistic scenario, this will add a trillion dollars to the deficit, now that all that happened tonight, Republicans got stopped in their tracks, in what was otherwise looking like a plan to pass this thing tonight, rushing it through.
Secretary Mnuchin appears to have screwed this up and it appears there are no magic numbers coming to their rescue. This thing did get stopped in its tracks tonight. Will it stay stopped?
Joining us now is Jared Bernstein, who`s a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He`s a former chief economist and economic policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
Mr. Bernstein, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
JARED BERNSTEIN, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER ON BUDGET AND POLICY PRIORITIES: My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, it turns out that the Treasury Department didn`t do any analysis of what this bill would do. That fact alone, is that weird?
BERNSTEIN: It is weird, and one of the reasons they didn`t do it is because there are no magic numbers. What you just described in great and, I thought, compelling detail, was a very simple reality that we already knew, anyone who`s been paying attention, which is that trickle-down economics do not work, OK?
If you`re going to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion, especially if your motivation here is to transfer so much income from the middle and moderate income families, to the top of the scale, that`s going to increase the deficit. And you can make all kinds of assertions about how that`s not the case, but every time we`ve tried it, every time other countries have tried it, that`s been the result. And the staffers in the Office of Tax Analysis at Treasury are people with great integrity who really know this stuff and there`s no way they were going to gin up a kind of magic fairy dust trickle-down supply side story that Steven Mnuchin, I like to call him Steven, since he wants to be called Steven, was trying to sell on everyone.
MADDOW: Well, I understand that you know the economic side of this stuff. You`ve also observed the politics of these kinds of fights closely over the years. It does feel like Republican senators were actually expecting to get something from Treasury and the Treasury Department, the secretary has been saying, it will be free, it will pay for itself.
From your understanding of the politics here, are there actually Republicans in the Senate who will care enough about adding a trillion or a trillion and a half dollars to the deficit that it will make them vote no on this?
BERNSTEIN: To their credit, there are a couple of Republicans who are putting a bit of a bump in this process, a bit of a road block tonight, because they don`t like that one trillion added to the deficit.
But the question is, is as follows. Will those Republicans accept a fig leaf kind of process for cover and then vote yes on the bill? And I got to tell, I`m afraid that they will.
Another thing that went wrong tonight for them is, they had a process they were going to use, a kind of a trigger mechanism by which if they didn`t collect the revenue that they needed to offset these deficit effects, some increases in taxes would automatically kick in, they would be triggered. Well, that was ruled to be something they couldn`t do, and so that was taken out of the picture.
So, now, they`re talking about other mechanisms to potentially raise taxes later, if they don`t get the revenues they want. I, for one, even if they get these mechanisms, first of all, they`ll be left with not only a very sizable budget deficit, but as you suggested in your opening, a budget deficit that`s motivated by just transferring a bunch of money to the one sector in the economy that is doing great -- multinational corporations and the heirs of rich estates. But also, do you trust a future Congress to necessarily step in and raise the revenues they need to offset this? I mean, I think that`s a pretty tough bet to make.
So, I`m concerned that the supposed deficit hawks are actually chicken hawks who will be easily bought off.
MADDOW: Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, former chief economist and economic policy adviser to Vice President Biden -- Jared, thanks for being here tonight. I know we`re expecting that they`re going to pick this back up and probably mid-morning tomorrow, we`ll be watching to see what happened. Appreciate your time tonight.
BERNSTEIN: My pleasure, thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. I got to tell you. I mentioned at the top of the show that we just got a new report from "The New York Times" that is very provocative in terms of the president being under scrutiny for obstructing justice in the Russia matter. "New York Times" has just published a very detailed report with a lot of named sources saying that the president pressured specific senators to end the congressional inquiry into Russia`s involvement in the election. This is new news from "The New York Times."
We`ve got more on that straight ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: -- we got on the air, we had some big breaking news tonight from "The New York Times," documenting apparent efforts by the president to try to stop the congressional investigations into Russia -- Russia`s involvement in the presidential election and potential involvement of Russia into the Trump campaign.
Now, "The New York Times" headline tonight is Trump pressed top Republicans to end Senate Russia inquiry. The lead of the story is this, President Trump over the summer repeatedly urged senior Senate Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to end the panel`s investigation into Russia`s interference in the 2016 election. They are citing a half dozen lawmakers and aides.
Mr. Trump`s requests were a highly unusual intervention from a president into a legislative inquiry involving his family and close aides. One of these top Republicans reportedly pressured by the president was the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr.
In an interview, Mr. Burr has now told "The Times," quote: It was something along the lines of, I hope you can conclude this as quickly as possible. He said he replied to Mr. Trump, quote: When we have exhausted everybody we need to talk to, we will finish.
"The Times" also says, quote, in addition, according to lawmakers and aides, Mr. Trump told Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the Intelligence Committee, to end the investigation swiftly.
The article also reports that in addition to directly lobbying Senator Burr himself, the president apparently contacted other Republican senators to pressure Burr, to lean on Senator Burr to wrap up his committee`s investigation. This is new news just out from "The New York Times."
Joining us is former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance.
Ms. Vance, thanks very much for joining us on very short notice. I know you`re absorbing this as we are tonight.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY (via telephone): Glad to join you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, we know that the president -- at least, it`s been reported that the president is under scrutiny for potential obstruction of justice with regard to the FBI investigation into Russia matters, and the president reportedly pressuring James Comey, then the director of the FBI, to lay off the Flynn investigation. The president is reportedly been under scrutiny by the Mueller investigation as to whether his firing of James Comey represented obstruction of justice in that regard.
If this "Times" reporting is true, and they do have a lot of named sources, and the president was trying to get a congressional investigation into Russia to be called off, to be ended prematurely, is that potentially obstruction of justice?
VANCE: It`s potentially obstruction of justice. It may be even more interesting to the Mueller team, because it would be evidence that they could use to demonstrate what the president`s state of mind was, and if he were to try to excuse the Comey firing as based on Comey, for instance, his conduct of the Clinton investigation, this continued pressure on senators to terminate the Russia investigation would also be helpful to demonstrate that the Comey firing had the intention of terminating the Russia investigation.
MADDOW: Is ignorance a defense in a matter like this? If the president, you know, had never read a political thriller, had never watched a movie about corruption and had never, ever had reason to learn about how obstruction of justice works or how you illegally impede an investigation and he thought it was OK for him to direct the Senate to stop an investigation, would his ignorance potentially on that kind of a subject, would that be a defense?
VANCE: Right, if he lived in a bubble, despite his experience in life. There is an old saying that young lawyers learn in law school. Ignorance of the law is no defense.
Would that apply here? I think that there are a number of factors that would work against the use of ignorance as a defense in addition to the fact it`s unlikely he was surely likely or that he was surely ignorant of the inappropriateness of a president shutting down an investigation. I think that there are plenty of circumstantial factors here that would demonstrate the pressure, the push-back for doing it, would make the ignorance defense a very weak one.
And there`s also some suggestion, and we`ve heard this before, well, he was a neophyte, he didn`t understand how these sorts of matters proceeded. Again, this isn`t the type of would demonstrate the pressure, the push-back for doing it, would make the ignorance defense a very weak one. And there`s also some suggestion, and we`ve heard this before, well, he was a neophyte, he didn`t understand how these sorts of matters proceeded.
Again, this isn`t the type of defense that tends to hold up in a corruption case. It`s tried a lot and it fails a lot.
MADDOW: Joyce, let me read you one other portion of this article of what has been published by "The New York Times" tonight because you`re talking about evidence of the president`s state of mind, his intent here, whether or not ignorance of the law would be a defense in this case.
There is some pretty provocative characterization in this "Times" piece about how the senators, who the president approached here, felt about him approaching them, how they received this pressure from him. I just want to read you two quick sections from the article.
Quote: Mr. Trump also called other lawmakers over the summer with requests that they push Senator Burr to finish the inquiry. That`s according to a Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss his contact with the president. This senator says he was alarmed upon hearing word of the president`s pleas and said Mr. Trump`s request to the other senators was clear. They should urge Mr. Burr to bring the Russia investigation to a close.
Later in the article, "The Times" says this: one Republican close to Mr. Burr who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Mr. Trump had been very forceful in his intervention with Senator Burr, telling Burr to stop the investigation.
Those -- that reaction by those senators, saying that they found this to be alarming, they found this to be a very forceful intervention, they were concerned by this -- how did that factor into this as potential legal matter?
VANCE: This is really damaging evidence, right? This means that the president tried directly with Senator Burr, wasn`t successful, and then proceed to go to everyone around him in an effort to put pressure on him.
And it would be helpful evidence, but Rachel, one thing we have to remember is that it`s unlikely we`ll ever see a Bob Mueller indictment of a sitting president. It`s more likely we`ll see this evidence, this information packaged into some sort of report that goes to the House that will then be used by folks in the house to gauge whether or not impeachment is appropriate.
So, how that all plays into political specter as opposed to in front of a judge in a courtroom, I think, you know, a very interesting question and the evidence may not have the impact on the Hill that it would have in a courtroom.
MADDOW: Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney from the great state of Alabama. Joyce, thank you for helping us understand this on short notice tonight. I really appreciate it.
VANCE: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right, we have a member of the house intelligence committee on deck. Stay with us.
MADDOW: If President Trump is under scrutiny for obstruction of justice, as has been reported due to his reported pressure on the FBI and FBI Director James Comey to end the FBI investigation into Trump national security adviser, Mike Flynn, if that report, that the president is under scrutiny by the special counsel for potential obstruction of justice in that matter, if that report is true, then today and tonight have brought two new important developments in terms of our understanding of the president`s potential liability on obstruction of justice issues.
First is this brand new "New York Times" article that just posted tonight, quoting multiple U.S. senators, describing the president`s efforts multiple times to pressure them into ending the congressional investigations of the Russia matter, particularly trying to get them to end the Senate intelligence inquiry into the Russia matter. This has just come out tonight from "The New York Times."
That follows what happened today behind closed doors in the House Intelligence Committee, which led the top Democrat in that committee to walk outside that committee, behind those closed doors, step in front of the cameras and raise this red flag.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I do want to express my concern over his refusal to respond to what I think is a very important question. I asked the attorney general whether he was ever instructed by the president to take any action that he believed would hinder the Russia investigation, and he declined to answer the question. There is no privilege basis to decline to answer a question like that. If the president did not instruct him to take the action that would hinder the investigation, he should say so. If the president did instruct him to hinder the investigation in any way, in my view, that would be a potentially criminal act and certainly not covered by any privilege.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, saying today that he asked the attorney general directly today whether the president ever instructed him to hinder the Russia investigation. And according to the congressman, the attorney general is refusing to answer that question.
That -- that would be a big deal, if that`s true. And that would definitely be something the Justice Department would at least have to clarify now.
Congressman Jim Himes from the Intelligence Committee joins us next.
MADDOW: Jim Himes, he`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Himes, really appreciate your time tonight, sir. Thank you for being here.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, firstly, I want to get your reaction to this "New York Times" story tonight which reports that the president intervened, personally, with multiple senators, including the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to pressure them to drop their Russia investigation in the Senate. Republican senators are describing this as forceful and alarming pressure by the president.
Did you know anything about this before this article tonight?
HIMES: We did not know anything about this article. But it comes as a surprise. I mean, you think about the context here, and, you know, start with the fact that the president, every other day or so on his Twitter account delegitimizes this investigation, you know, calls it fake news, rages about it.
Remember back to when he fired Jim Comey and he himself said that he did that to relieve the pressure of the investigation. Remember back to Jim Comey, testifying or saying that -- that he was asked, pressured by the president and I`ll tell you, in our own investigation, you know, we have to some extent been compromised, our chairman has had to recuse himself, and it disturbs me, because he`s a friend, but he has to rescue himself because he took some actions that looked an awful lot like helping the president in the context of this investigation.
You just heard from Adam Schiff, by the way, who characterized the attorney general`s refusal to answer the question, and I`ll just say that when the report is written, and I don`t want to get into detail here. But when the report is written, it will be true that other senior officials were talked to, questioned, asked about this by the president.
MADDOW: When you say talk to, questioned, asked about this by the president, you mean other administration officials or law enforcement officials were approached by the president and pressured to end Russia investigations?
HIMES: I don`t want to use the word pressured, but certainly, it was a topic of intense interest with some administration officials by the president.
MADDOW: When Adam Schiff came out of this testimony today, obviously you heard closed door testimony today from the attorney general, and I know that we respect that, and you`re not going to characterize that beyond what`s already been said publicly. But what Congressman Schiff said about his interactions with the attorney general behind closed doors is very provocative stuff. He says that the attorney general is refusing to answer questions as to whether or not President Trump ever pressured him on the Russia investigation.
Can you confirm for us that that is the way -- that that happened the way Congressman Schiff said it did?
HIMES: It did happen the way Congressman Schiff said it did. And it was sort of an odd moment, because, of course, there is an executive privilege, and executive privilege protects the conversations that the president has with his advisers. Executive privilege must be asserted by the president, not by an individual who works for the president. Of course, the president hasn`t exerted executive privilege or asserted executive privilege in this case, and actually the attorney general did not say he was doing this on the basis of executive privilege. He said there`s a long tradition of the attorney general not discussing the conversations that he has with the president.
And the interesting thing about that is that if the president did in fact pressure the attorney general to stop, to slow, to obstruct the investigation, that raises the possibility, and I really want to be careful about the language I use here, it raises the possibility of a criminal act. You can`t obstruct an investigation. And, of course, no privilege protects the right of silence around the possibility that a criminal act may have been committed.
MADDOW: Would you expect the Department of Justice internally to have anything to say about the attorney general refusing to answer these questions? Obviously, what you and Congressman Schiff have said today, both of you have phrased this very carefully, but if the president asked the attorney general to hinder an ongoing criminal investigation, there`s the possibility that what the president did there was a criminal matter, that would appear to not be something that the attorney general could opt out of describing, if he was witness to a crime being committed by the president in this instance.
Would the Department of Justice, either through the inspector general`s office or through some other internal means, be able to correct that and force the attorney general to go on the record there?
HIMES: Yes, I think there`s probably two paths. Again, Congress could push the attorney general here and say, you know, either assert executive privilege, or have the president exert executive privilege, or not, in which case, if there is not, you need to answer Congress`s question. I don`t care if you are in the cabinet. You need to ask Congress`s questions.
The other route is what you allude to, which is, you know, since the attorney general has recused himself from the Russia investigation, presumably, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein or Bob Mueller who are conducting and leading this investigation, if they felt there was cause to investigate this, they, in fact, could question the attorney general on that issue.
MADDOW: Congressman Jim Himes, member of the House Intelligence Committee -- fast-moving news on this subject tonight. Thanks for helping us understand it, sir. Appreciate your time.
HIMES: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: One last quick piece of news before we go tonight. Congressman Jim Himes from the Intelligence Committee just suggested moments ago here live that if Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to refuse to answer the question of whether the president ever asked him to hinder the Russia investigation, as the attorney general refused to do today under oath, Congressman Himes suggested that the attorney general could be directed to answer that question by special counsel Robert Mueller or the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who is overseeing the investigations inside the Justice Department.
I need to tell you that Rod Rosenstein was scheduled today, was announced today that he will be testifying to Congress presumably about the Russia investigation in an open session, not behind closed doors, on December 13th. If this matter is not resolved before then, you can expect this may be an area of focus for that questioning. December 13th. Plan to call in sick.
All right. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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