Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 1, 2017 Guest: Paul Fishman
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Appreciate it. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Two of the most important stories of the year are unfolding at the same time right now. Today what may end up being the two most important stories of the whole first year of the Trump administration both at least started happening on the same day.
The first, of course, is legislation for the first time. There has been no significant legislation of any kind passed since Republicans took control of the house and Senate and White House with the inauguration of Donald Trump in January.
Well, tonight, the Senate appears maybe poised to change that with the biggest change to the American tax code in 30 years. As Chris Hayes was talking about with his guest tonight, there is no deadline by which they have to pass this bill. There is not even some procedural deadline. That isn`t a big deal but would make things easier for them. There`s nothing.
There is no reason they need to be rushing to try to pass this bill tonight before administration has even produced analysis about what it will cost while the bill is still partially handwritten, while senators have had no substantive hearings on it at all. But the Republicans are rushing to try to do it tonight.
And so, we`ve got eyes on that huge news story as the Senate floor continues to bustle, and as we expect them to move toward a vote at some point, we`re going to have live reports on that throughout the hour, I`m guessing.
With Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn pleading guilty in Washington today to lying to the FBI, we got our second gigantic news story of the day and we also entered into uncharted territory for an American presidency. Ten months into this administration, ten months and 11 days into this administration, federal prosecutors have now brought multiple felony charges against the president`s campaign chairman and another campaign aid. Those same prosecutors have obtained guilty pleas from another campaign aide, and as of today from the president`s first national security advisor.
And in the case of national security advisor and campaign aide who have pled guilty, it is the fact that they both plead guilty to a simple charge of lying to investigators that tells you the magnitude of the threat to the president and potentially to the vice president because of those guilty pleas. In the case of both foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, on the right of your screen, and now, Trump national security adviser, Michael Flynn, on the left, those guilty pleas from each of those men to single simple charges, those make clear that both Papadopoulos and Flynn are cooperating with the Mueller investigation.
And in general, the way these things go is you don`t cooperate to help prosecutors get a fish that is your size or smaller. They get you to cooperate because they believe you have valuable information to offer about fishes that are larger than yourself.
And when it comes to a campaign aid like George Papadopoulos, just every fish was bigger than him on the campaign. But when it comes to national security adviser Mike Flynn, there just aren`t that many people who are further up the food chain than he was within the Trump campaign and the start of the Trump administration.
So, there`s couple things I want to point out about how we got to this Flynn court appearance today. But I`m going to -- I can fast forward ask tell you, I`m going to end with why the president specifically and the vice president specifically may each have real concerns now tonight about what just happened in federal court today and what has likely already gone down between Mike Flynn and prosecutors who signed off on his guilty plea today, OK?
Are you ready? Here it goes. The important thing for us just as Americans, as civilians watching this unfold, I think the important thing for all of us to know about today and about Mike Flynn and his role in this scandal is that none of us should get too cocky in thinking that we understand how he fits into all of this.
I think really the most important thing right now is to stay humble and keep your eyes and your ears open in terms of what you think you understand about Mike Flynn and this scandal. What we all think we understand about what he was doing in Trump`s orbit, what he knows and may be able to offer prosecutors.
And I say we should be humbled because there`s a lot about Mike Flynn in the Trump campaign, in the Trump administration that is as yet, very opaque. It`s stuff that doesn`t really make much sense, just logically looking at it from the outside, and there`s been no serious effort or at least no serious success in anybody trying to explain why these strange things happened around Flynn joining the campaign in the first place and the way he finally left the White House.
You know, part of that was hinted at today when the top Russia lawyer in the White House Ty Cobb dismissed any idea the president, vice president might be concerned with Flynn cooperating with prosecutors. The White House Russia lawyer Ty Cobb is dismissing Mike Flynn I kid you not as a former Obama administration official. And that was -- that was funny when Ty Cobb said that about Mike Flynn because that would be like announcing Nixon`s resignation as former California congressman steps down from position in Washington.
It`s ridiculous, right, that the import of Mike Flynn stepping down is that he`s a former Obama administration official. So, it`s funny to see the White House desperation there.
But Mr. Cobb technically is correct that Mike Flynn worked for the Obama administration. He was the top official at the Defense Intelligence Agency during President Obama`s -- the first part of -- the first part of president Obama`s second term. And that part of his career is actually the start of some of the important stuff we really don`t understand yet about Mike Flynn and his motivation and his state of mind and how he ended up with Trump in the first place.
As we`ve covered here on the show recently, while Mike Flynn was running the Defense Intelligence Agency, one of the things the agency did was sent out an urgent Pentagon-wide threat assessment warning the entire Department of Defense against using any software that was made by a company called Kaspersky. The DIA warning about Kaspersky was reportedly on the basis of their contention that Kaspersky was linked to the government and to Russian intelligence services, and therefore, Mike Flynn`s agency, the DIA, they set out this warning across the Pentagon, don`t use Kaspersky software because Kaspersky is a Russian intel front.
That was 2013. They put out that report. And overall, Mike Flynn`s tenure running the intelligence agency went poorly. He was fired by Obama from the DIA in 2014.
One of the unexplained and now sort of worrying things about Mike Flynn is that after he put out that report in 2013 warning everybody that Kaspersky was a front for Russian intelligence, put out that report in 2013, he was fired from that agency in 2014, then when he set out in 2015 to start making money as a private citizen, one of the very first places he went to to get paid was Kaspersky -- that software company they just warned was a front for Russian intelligence. In 2015, he took money from them. That same year, in 2015, Flynn also took money from another Russian company, an obscure air cargo company that happens to be linked to a bunch of Russian government scandals.
That same year 2015, he also took money from Russia Today, from Russian state-run media. That same year 2015, he also traveled to Russia. He went to Moscow on an all expenses paid trip. He brought his son. And on that trip to Moscow, famously, he sat with and met with Vladimir Putin.
So, after getting fired from the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration, why in the following year, why in 2015, did Mike Flynn take that apparent turn toward Russia?
For what it`s worth, in the Christopher Steele dossier, Steele says a Kremlin official said he brought Mike Flynn to Moscow as part of a Kremlin strategy of engaging with high-profile U.S. players. In the Kremlin funding Flynn`s visit to Moscow, that was viewed by the Russian government as, quote, successful in terms of perceived outcomes.
Well, that all-expenses paid trip to Moscow which is viewed by the Russian government as having successful outcomes in terms of Mike Flynn, that was mid December 2015. Within weeks after he got home from that trip in February 2016, Mike Flynn started working for the Donald Trump campaign.
He has never been associated with any political candidate or political campaign before. Mike Flynn was then and apparently still is a Democrat. What was up with his turn toward Russia and his trip to Russia in late 2015 and then very soon thereafter the start of his involvement with the Trump campaign?
And then once he was on the Trump campaign and quickly became an integral and high ranking part of the Trump operation, why did Trump behave so oddly toward Flynn? Over and over again in the face of incredible danger to the Trump campaign and ultimately Trump presidency?
After Trump won the election, and he came to the White House to meet with President Obama, you remember that incredible photo op of the two of them sitting there in the Oval Office, we know in person at that meeting, after the election, President Obama one on one man to man, eye to eye with Donald Trump warned him specifically about Mike Flynn. Do not hire Mike Flynn to be your national security adviser.
Now, President Obama does not appear to have taken that kind of action about anybody else involved in the Trump campaign or the transition or the Trump administration. He chose at his meeting in the Oval Office with Trump to single out Mike Flynn as a danger to warn him not to bring him on in any powerful role. Trump ignored that specific warning.
And maybe that`s not that weird, right? Maybe no matter what Obama might have warned Trump about, Trump will do the opposite because he hated President Obama so much. It`s totally possible.
But then what happened next? During that transition, Mike Flynn and his lawyers came to the White House and told the top lawyer for the transition that Flynn had been accepting money from foreign governments and beyond that, he told the White House, his lawyers told the White House that Flynn was under investigation by the Justice Department for having taken money from foreign governments, for having not registered as a foreign agent when he did so.
That`s not just something that we all found out months later, you know, after the fact down the road. During the transition, the transition knew about it. Congress notified the transition Mike Flynn appeared to be on a foreign payroll during the transition, and Flynn himself and his lawyers told the transition that he was, A, on a former payroll, and B, in trouble for it during the investigation.
And once again, the Trump transition appears to have just had no reaction to that information whatsoever. Despite the fact that they were in the process of installing him as national security advisor. Your national security advisor is on a foreign payroll. Oh, yes? Huh.
And then, immediately after the inauguration, they got more and intense and unusual warnings about Mike Flynn, when the acting attorney general of the United States came to the White House in person twice to have detailed discussions about the fact Mike Flynn was believed to be compromised by the Russian government, vulnerable to blackmail and dishonest in an ongoing way about his covert communications with a foreign government.
I mean, if you found out information like that concerning somebody who was working in the White House mill room, you would expect the White House version of a SWAT team to come in, grab that person by the armpits and you`d never see them again after they ran them out the door, right?
But in this case, the White House appears to have had no reaction about this warning about Mike Flynn. They allowed Flynn to continue with his duties as national security advisor, including participating in national security discussions at the highest level, briefing the press from the White House press room, sitting in on discussions with foreign leaders.
They kept him on for 18 days, no change in his responsibilities. Until finally, the White House -- "The Washington Post" reported on that warning that the White House had been given, and only then, that they reluctantly asked him to leave. And we know it was reluctant because they didn`t resign and the president praised him to the heavens upon his resignation.
And then the day after Flynn resigned, the president went out even further on a limb for him, personally intervening with the director of the FBI to try to get the FBI to drop any investigation into Flynn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Director, when the president requested that you and I, quote, let Flynn go, General Flynn had an unreported contact with the Russians, which is an offense and if press accounts are right, there might have been discrepancies between facts and his FBI testimony. In your estimation was General Flynn at that time in serious legal jeopardy?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: General Flynn at that point in time was in legal jeopardy. There was an open FBI criminal investigation of his statements with the Russian contacts and contacts themselves.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Senator Risch outlined a -- I hope you can see your way to letting Flynn go. He`s a good guy. I hope you can let this go. But you also said in your written remarks and I quote, that you had understood the president to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn.
COMEY: Well, the context and the president`s words are what led me to that conclusion. As I said in my statement, I could be wrong but Flynn had been forced to resign the day before. On the 14th, the president makes specific reference to that and so that`s why I understood him to be saying what he wanted me to do is drop any investigation connected to Flynn`s account of his conversations with the Russians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What was going on between Trump and Flynn? Trump was warned by the outgoing president, listen, dude, I`m not going to give you too much advice but don`t hire that guy Flynn. He brushed off that warning. White House was warned that Flynn was on a foreign government`s payroll, brushed off that warning, warned that Flynn was under federal investigation for being on a foreign government`s payroll, brushed that off. They were warned that he was compromised by Russia while he was serving as national security advisor, brushed off that warning.
When Flynn was finally, finally allowed to resign upon that becoming public when it became known he was under investigation for his relationship with Russia, the president then intervened with the FBI to try to make that investigation into Flynn go away. The FBI director didn`t back off the investigation of Flynn when the president was pressuring him do that in February but then in march, the president asked the director of national intelligence, Dan Coates, if he would please intervene with the FBI to get them to drop their investigation of Mike Flynn.
What was it about Mike Flynn? It`s not like the president didn`t have reason to believe something shady was up with Flynn.
I mean, we have had I guess for lack of a better word, we had generic reporting about the president wanting to shut down or trying to shut down parts of the Russia investigation. Just last night, we got a new dramatic instance of that when "The New York Times" reported on the president pressuring the Senate and specifically the Senate Intelligence Committee, to shut down their Russia investigation.
We know that the president wants to shut down the Russia investigation broadly, but there`s been nothing like the focus lest had on shutting down the investigation into Flynn, right? If you`re looking for a point of focus for something the president was trying to stop for months, it was any investigation into Flynn. Why was Trump willing to tolerate and ignore so many red flags and warnings about Flynn, and then why was he willing to bend over backwards and risk his presidency to stop Flynn from being investigated?
I mean, in a million different ways, Flynn`s tenure during the campaign and transition and as national security advisor was just a consistent magnet for criminal investigation and trouble. He was secretly on another government`s payroll in the campaign and in the transition. He advocated for the extradition of a Turkish cleric. He appears to have been paid to advocate for that. He also intervened to stop the Obama administration for funding Kurdish fighters who are taking on ISIS in Syria.
Turkey didn`t want that funding. Turkey appears to have been paying Mike Flynn when he advocated with the Obama administration that they shouldn`t do that.
When Flynn advocated a bizarre plan to sprinkle nuclear reactors around the Middle East, that idea he promoted in private life but national security advisor, he appears to have been paid to promote that cause, as well. Flynn was also linked to an effort by pro-Trump political activist to contact Russian government hackers to try to get from them stolen Hillary Clinton e-mails that the Trump campaign could use against her.
Peter Smith is the late operative who was running that operation. He said before he died that he was working with Mike Flynn on that operation. It`s now a matter of not just journalistic record but court filings that Flynn himself has attested or true during the transition, he held secret conversations with the Russian government about undermining and dropping U.S. sanctions against Russia, including the sanctions that had been leveled by the Obama administration in response to Russia messing with our election.
And we now know, thanks to the guilty plea that Flynn filed in D.C. district court that he lied to the FBI about those conversations with Russian officials and more.
Why did this guy end up on the Trump campaign in the first place? Why did he stay there when it started going wrong so badly and blatantly early on? Why was the president so desperate to keep Flynn around and to save him from criminal scrutiny once the White House could no longer avoid the fact that Flynn was trouble?
I mean, big picture, where we are right now, we know as a matter of record, Russia intervened aggressively in the election to help Donald Trump. We know elements of the Trump campaign knew about that intervention by Russia before the American public ever did, we know that elements of the Trump campaign were very enthusiastic about the help they were getting from Russia and that elements of the Trump campaign sought further help from Russia in the form of negative information they could use against Clinton.
We know that there were many, many, many, many, like 19 that we know of, many Russian officials and Russians linked to the Putin government who successfully made contact with members of the Trump campaign.
We know that Russia also had an ask, a consistent ask of the Trump campaign and the Trump transition. They wanted help with sanctions.
We know also that members of the Trump campaign and Trump transition were happy to talk to Russia about helping them out on sanctions and even to make them some promises in that regard. We now know not only that the Trump administration tried to deliver that help, tried to deliver sanctions relief in a unilateral way once they got to Washington, although they were stymied in efforts, they had conversations at a very high level with the Russian government about their efforts towards sanctions relief that they then lied about and tried to cover up including lying to the FBI. We know all of that now and the government has all of that now.
We know from their court filings against Manafort and Gates and Papadopoulos and now Flynn, the government has all of that, but we now know they have also got Flynn and "The Washington Post" reports tonight that Flynn started his discussions about cooperating with Mueller last month and included his lawyers making what is called a proffer to the Mueller team about what Flynn had to offer, what kind of information he could offer prosecutors for them being more lenient with him.
So, everybody has been talking about what Flynn might say, Flynn probably said a lot about it. And so, here is two concerns for the president and for the vice president. The first for the president is spelled out very clearly in the statement of the offense filed in D.C. district court today. According to the government, according to Flynn`s guilty plea, he was not freelancing, when he held secret discussions about sanctions with Russia, which for months they lied to cover up.
The statement of offense in Flynn`s case says he was in communication throughout those negotiations with the presidential transition team, specifically with a senior official of the presidential transition team who was at Mar-a-Lago while Flynn was having those discussions. It`s been reported now by NBC News that that senior official was K.T. McFarland, a former FOX News personality who was hired to be Flynn`s deputy. Her job at Mar-a-Lago, according to NBC News, was that she was staffing the president on national security matters at that time.
Well, whoever was directing Mike Flynn to discuss sanctions secretly with Russia, it would not have been Katy McFarland. She was junior for him. She worked for him. She wasn`t telling him what to do.
According to the NBC News reporting, what she was doing, what`s staffing the president on these matters, handling communication with Mike Flynn on those matters, while he took those calls and she stood next to Trump. If those sanctions discussions happened at the direction of the president, the president personally will have to answer not only for the content of the directive but for the months of false statements about since, and for the effort to shut down the investigation into those conversations exactly. That is potentially a very serious problem for the president at a personal level.
As for the vice president, this is my last point. Vice President Pence insisted publicly more than once that Mike Flynn never talked about sanctions with the Russians, that was always a face -- always a false statement. Well, now we know that multiple members of the Trump transition team knew that it was a false statement when Mike Pence said it. So why did they let him say it?
Honestly, what we learned today also raises the question as to whether or not Mike Pence knew that was a false statement when he said it. Well, we can report exclusively tonight that Vice President Mike Pence has not spoken to Robert Mueller or his team of investigators, nor has he been to. We can also report tonight that the vice president has not been asked to hand over any documents to the Mueller investigation.
But given what just emerged today in federal court, one has to expect that he knows that is coming, which means we should all know that is coming. Buckle up.
MADDOW: (AUDIO GAP) November 5th, NBC News reports that special counsel Robert Mueller has piled up enough evidence to bring charges in the investigation into Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn. Five days later, November 10th, "The Wall Street Journal" looks into a new previously unreported meeting between Flynn and Turkish officials during the transition. At this follow-up meeting, the one held a few months earlier, the two sides reportedly discussed a detailed plan to kidnap a Turkish cleric residing in the U.S. and whisked him away to Turkey.
In exchange, Mike Flynn and his son were reportedly to be paid $15 million. So, November 10th, "The Wall Street Journal" reports that Robert Mueller is looking into that matter. Then, a few days after that, NBC reported that the special counsel is also targeting Flynn`s former business partner at his consulting company.
I mean, in hindsight, now, you see these things stack up about the pressure mounting on Flynn and on all things that are being included in the scrutiny onto him, you sort of can see these things happening. Now, you can sort of see like, I can maybe tell where this is going, at least in hindsight. We probably should have seen it coming even before the very next sign arrived, which arrived the night before Thanksgiving, that next sign was a dollar sign.
Remember this? The night before Thanksgiving, the president`s Russia lawyer at the White House told us, quote, the president is not planning to contribute to Mike Flynn`s legal defense fund. That was probably a sign, too. Then two days ago, we learned the special counsel had suddenly without warning delayed the planned grand jury testimony of a witness from a PR firm that had been fired by Flynn in congestion with his Turkish contract.
So, if you knew what to look for, if you were a pro in this field, there were signs that Trump`s national security advisor was probably about to turn up in court. People who knew this stuff probably knew this was coming, if not today then some time soon.
For us, just, you know, regular civilians trying to keep track of these things, I feel like what happened today ties up a lot of these loose end stories we`ve been watching and wondering about for the past few weeks, wondering if they are important, wondering what they meant. Now that Flynn is cooperating and has entered a guilty plea, now a lot of those stories about pressure on him all sort of make sense.
But if you`re a pro, if you`re familiar with this world, if you know how this stuff works in real life, I don`t -- one, were you less surprised than the rest of us this happened today but, two, are you able to see with any charity what is likely to happen next here?
Let`s ask a pro. Paul Fishman is former U.S. attorney for the great state of New Jersey.
It`s great to have you here, sir. Thank you.
PAUL FISHMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Nice to be back.
MADDOW: Were you surprised?
FISHMAN: I wasn`t surprised that Mike Flynn within the cross hairs and given apparently the strength of the case he lied to the FBI, that he ultimately ended up pleading guilty. And I think there are a lot of things that come out that were quite significant.
FISHMAN: The first is, we now have -- as you said at the top of the show, there are now four individuals associated with the campaign and some at very high levels who have now been charged with federal felonies and two of them pled guilty. I think it`s fair to say that you can`t call this a witch hunt anymore. If it ever could fairly be called that, it`s not that.
The second thing is that Bob Mueller takes lying to the FBI very seriously. We now have two people who have been prosecuted and plead guilty to lying to the FBI.
The third is that Jeff Sessions recusal was entirely necessarily, not only because Bob Mueller may well be taking a look at Jeff Sessions` own statements to Congress, but also because all of these people who are now being charged had relationships with Jeff Sessions during the campaign and transition. He was the head of their foreign policy team.
So, I don`t think it`s not fair to say that Jeff Sessions decision to recuse was in any way the wrong decision. It was exactly right.
Next, these things take time. What we know from today and we already knew this from some Sally Yates` testimony earlier this year is that when -- is that Michael Flynn was interviewed by the FBI on January 24th. On January 24th, the FBI knew that he had lied to them because if what`s been reported is right, they already listened to the phone calls from three weeks earlier and so, they knew he lied.
Even so, even with an aggressive talented team of investigators and prosecutors, it still takes ten months to get to a place like this and so, to the extent that people like Ty Cobb are saying this will be over by Christmas or by January, that`s just laughable. This is going to take a long time as this prosecution team methodically goes through the evidence against Mike Flynn and other people to figure out what charges can and in fact should be brought or what shouldn`t be brought.
The last thing is, I would say that the idea that you can say now the president is not a subject to the investigation is also wrong. If you add up his decision to fire Jim Comey, his repeated exhortations to Comey, to try to deep-six the Flynn investigation, if you have the cooperation of Mike Flynn, if you have the draft letter that the president apparently dictated when he was at his golf club in New Jersey about why he wanted to fire Comey, if you look at the fact that the press reported that the president`s lawyers sent to Mueller`s stuff a long memo on why obstruction of justice charges wouldn`t be appropriate, you have to, if you all draw that together, you have to say that Bob Mueller is definitely looking at whether the president and people around him also helped obstruct justice.
MADDOW: Let me ask about one specific point you just raised there about when Sally Yates, acting attorney general went to the White House to tell them about -- basically issue them a warning about this, the current national security advisor at the time, part of the pushback from the White House today reportedly has been Don McGahn, White House counsel who was the person who Sally Yates met with on January 24th, saying that he`s angry that Sally Yates didn`t tell him at that meeting that Flynn had committed a crime, that he had lied to the FBI.
And if what you`re saying is true, that the FBI would know he lied to them after they had spoken to him, in that first -- in that first week of the Trump administration, should Sally Yates have told the White House that the FBI believed that Flynn had lied to them? Is she -- was she at liberty to do that given the ongoing investigation?
FISHMAN: At liberty is one question but whether it`s appropriate or not is the right question. I think she made the right call. I think she waited until the FBI -- she had concerned about Flynn before that. They already knew he had talked to him. The FBI had come to her with the allegations, they said that they were investigating Mike Flynn. The documents that were filed today report that the FBI had already been investigating Flynn and his contact with the Russians, and in any situation like that, somebody in Sally Yates` position, whether she`s the deputy attorney general, attorney general at the time, has to make a calculations about how you tell the White House something about an ongoing investigation, because you don`t want to risk compromising the investigation.
And I suspect, though, I don`t know this because I haven`t asked her. I suspect, and there`s always a tension in those circumstances, the people in the Justice Department want to make sure that the White House knows what it needs to know, but also, as a prosecutor and FBI just together with her and the agency and prosecutors handling the case don`t want to risk compromising.
So, they waited until the FBI did that interview before she expressed any concerns and two days later went to see Don McGahn. What`s interesting is she went to see McGahn on January 26th, gave these concerns to the White House about those. McCain said that he shared those concerns with the president and the next night, Jim Comey is invited to the White House for dinner and asked for a pledge of loyalty.
MADDOW: Paul Fishman, former U.S. attorney for the state of New Jersey, can you stay with me another second? I have another question I want to ask about the fact Flynn pled guilty to lying and how that may affect his viability as a witness that anybody else`s proceeding. You can stick with us?
MADDOW: All right. Paul Fishman stays with us. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: (AUDIO GAP) for a second segment because I can.
Joining us once again is Paul Fishman, former U.S. attorney for the great state of New Jersey, Mr. Fishman -- thank you. Sorry, I didn`t warn you I would ask you to do two segments.
FISHMAN: That`s fine.
MADDOW: Everybody is talking about how Flynn may be cooperating and will be able to testify about other people in the campaign and the administration, now that he has pled guilty to lying, though, doesn`t that undermine his credibility as a witness in any context going forward from here?
FISHMAN: Well, it certainly detracts from his credibility. It`s certainly also not fatal. There are a lot of cases that I prosecuted personally that people I supervised and prosecuted and that I know other prosecutors have prosecuted, in which a witness testified for the government in a particular case, and one of the things the witness said was, by the way, in previous testimony or in another context, I lied.
What prosecutors like to do is what they do here which is say if you`re going to end up being somebody who is going to testify on the witness stand that you lied, we want you to own that in your guilty plea. We want you to plead guilty to that so on the witness stand you can say, yes, I lied. It was a felony. I admit it. I am responsible for it but I`m not lying now. That`s a typical thing to happen.
MADDOW: OK. In the statement of the offense today, prosecutors describe Flynn`s misstatements to the Justice Department when he filed as a foreign agent. But it doesn`t appear to me they charged him with that. They charged him with lying to the FBI and those specific things about talking to the Russians.
MADDOW: Why did they mention that stuff about his filing without charging him on that?
FISHMAN: I suspect because it`s less relevant to the substance of the investigation overall.
FISHMAN: I think that the things that they actually prosecuted him for, the lies he told were like the Russia stuff and Israel stuff. The things with which he was in communication, according to his guilty plea with other members of the president elect`s transition team and the far stuff, which happened later is not quite as in the mainstream of what this allegations are. But what`s interesting prosecuted him for, the lies he told were like the Russia stuff and Israel stuff. The things he was in communication with the guilty plea with members of the president elect`s transition team.
FISHMAN: And the other -- the far stuff, which happened later, is not quite as in the mainstream of what these allegations are.
But what`s interesting about the plea agreement and in your -- the first segment of the show, you were talking about the turkey stuff and all the money that Flynn got from the Russians and whether it was a failure to register as a foreign agent and whether or not there might have been a kidnapping plot.
MADDOW: Yes, not of that is in there.
FISHMAN: It`s not only not in there, but the plea agreement doesn`t actually protect him from being prosecuted from that. And one of the things that I noticed, and struck me as a little unusual, ordinarily, a plea agreement says you`ll plead guilty to A, or A, B and C, and in exchange for your pleading guilty to those things, you won`t be prosecuted for everything we know about as of right now. Everything you`ve told us about as of right now.
This plea agreement does not say that.
MADDOW: Doesn`t say anything like that.
FISHMAN: It says the only thing they are not going to prosecute for are the false -- things related to the false statements that are in the statement of facts that you eluded to, and that`s a much narrower protection for him. There`s been speculation that he was going to come and cooperate because of risk to his son. There is nothing in the plea agreement about his son.
And so, I wonder how circumscribed this protection for Mike Flynn is right now in exchange for his cooperation.
MADDOW: It appears to be very, very narrow. Yes.
Last quick question briefly, in your experience, once an investigation has a big time cooperating witness and everybody knows it, does that change the calculations about other people who may be charged in the same case and whether or not they cooperate?
FISHMAN: Well, sure. I mean, in any situation, once somebody -- once somebody knows that the government is getting information about him or her from somebody else, then that person has the stakes raised and that person may say, you know, it`s time for me to come in.
But here is the thing, the best deal goes to the people who are first in the door and so, people like you said earlier in the show, Paul Manafort could cooperate. He might. But the charges against him are multimillions of dollars worth of money laundering. If he comes in, he`s going to have to eat that, and we`ll see whether he`s willing to do that or not.
MADDOW: Paul Manafort, his calculation on this may change, but he may be ruing the day that he decided to be the guy saying --
FISHMAN: Or to launder the money to begin with.
MADDOW: Or there is that.
Paul Fishman, former U.S. attorney in the state of New Jersey --
FISHMAN: Thanks a lot.
MADDOW: -- thank you very much.
FISHMAN: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. A lot more to get to on this blockbuster of a news day, with news that continues to develop right now in Washington. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`re going to have more on Mike Flynn and his guilty plea today and what it means for the president and vice president. We`ll have more in that coming up in just a moment.
But first, take a look at this. This is a proposed piece of the U.S. tax code. It`s a page from the final version of the Republican tax bill, the final version, an entire clause written in the margin in ineligible chicken scratch.
If you listen closely, you can hear the entire U.S. Senate holding this bill up to the light now, adjusting reading glasses, trying to figure out if that`s a D or a P, is this what you kids call an emoticon? Republicans spent all day doodling in the margins of their federal tax overhaul. Making last-minute changes behind closed doors with no involvement from Democrats or from most of their own caucus. And this is what they ended up with.
What you`re looking at here, these are not -- this is not a draft. This is parts of the bill they are putting to a vote on the floor of the United States Senate tonight. A 479-page bill that no one has read, a bill that was written partly with a sharpie, a bill that will have major effect on the world`s largest economy.
We`ve been expecting Mitch McConnell to bring this to a vote all evening. So far, that has not happened. We`re getting reports that Republicans are still, still now making last-minute touchups to the bill. Nobody knows for certain when the Senate will actually vote on this or actually what they will be voting on when they finally do.
This whole thing was supposed to happen to believe the because of the late hour right now, it may not happen until tomorrow. Whenever it does happen, though, this bill, if you can call it that, it is expected to pass. The only Republican senator who said he`ll vote no is Bob Corker. Every other is expected to vote yes to take billions of dollars from middle class families and shift them to the rich.
The bill is a massive tax increase on the poor and middle class. It is specifically written so Americans at the lower end of the economic spectrum will pay more taxes and people at the top and large corporations will pay much, much less. If the bill becomes law, 13 million people that have health insurance right now will have it taken away. For the people that are still able to afford health coverage, your premiums will spike.
All along, Republicans have been insisting this bill will pay for itself, that the economic growth will offset the price tag on this bill. It turns out the math is off to the tune of a trillion dollars. A fresh report from the Joint Committee on Taxation just yesterday says the bill will not pay for itself. It will add a trillion dollars to the debt.
Despite that forecast, Senate Republicans are expected to approve this plan sometime late tonight then it will go back to the House and matchup their version before sending it off to the president. The bill is wildly unpopular on its substance. Activism against this bill has reached sort of a fever pitch this week all over the country. People who are literally camping out on the street last night outside their senator`s office, begging them to vote no on this.
Tonight, we`re not sure when or if they`re going to ram this thing through. It could be a bumpy road at the finish line. Watch this space.
MADDOW: (AUDIO GAP) presidency where both the president and vice president had to hire defense counsel in a counterintelligence investigation before they got to the end of their first year in office?
Has there ever been a new presidency where four members of the presidential campaign ended up charged with felonies before the end of the new president`s first year in office? Has there ever been a presidency when the national security advisor or somebody at that level flipped to become a cooperating witness? Even before the first year of that new presidency was up?
Joining us is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, a man who tends to know these things.
Mr. Beschloss, thank you very much for being with us.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you, Rachel. I`ll try.
MADDOW: Well, I have a feeling the answer to all the questions is no.
BESCHLOSS: I think you`re absolutely right.
MADDOW: I wanted to ask you if you do see anything that would be helpful to us as citizens watching this, in terms of understanding precedent for this, things in previous presidencies that have been anything like this. What are you looking to in terms of history for understanding the magnitude of what happened today?
BESCHLOSS: Well, really the speed. You know, just as you`re saying, we haven`t seen a scandal that unfolded so quickly and also, we haven`t seen an investigation that was this fast. You know, this is during the first year and this reminds me very much as it has others of John Dean at the time of Watergate because in the spring of 1973, Richard Nixon was doing a pretty good job of covering up Watergate.
It was only because his White House counsel John Dean was worried he would be the scapegoat and that he decided to cooperate with the investigation and he was the one that was able to go to the senate, go to the prosecutors and say, this is what the president said in private. He is the architect of the cover-up.
MADDOW: When John dean flipped, at that time in the Watergate investigation, did everybody know what a big deal that was? First of all, did people know that he had started to cooperate? Did people know in advance of his testimony the kinds of things that he`d be able to testify to? How big did it feel to people at the time? What was the kind of reaction to his decision?
BESCHLOSS: He flipped in April of 1973 and he did it quietly and began cooperating with the feds. His testimony was at the end of June. The Senate Watergate committee hearings and began by saying -- it`s so memorable. He said, before I start, I want to say I hope that the president is forgiven.
And there had been some advance notices what he would say would be pretty important but what Dean said was, you know, this is not distant scandal distant from an Olympian president. This is something that`s been run out of the Oval Office and what`s more, I`m going to tell you exactly what Nixon said to me and said to others.
MADDOW: John Dean obviously testifying publicly there, not behind closed doors, testifying in the Senate committee. In this case, it appears that Mike Flynn`s testimony is going to be to the Mueller investigation to those prosecutors, so that`s special counsel office. I wonder if there is anyway to -- I guess, I don`t know if there is anyway to look to history or to look to any other analogy in terms of figuring out the import of the testimony if we never hear it.
BESCHLOSS: Yes, I think that`s right, but I think there is a very good chance decades from now, we may look back on this day as a big day in history because if Mike Flynn is able to give testimony that ties, you know, various fences to either Donald Trump or the vice president or people around them, that is something that makes this a very pivotal day, very similar to what we saw with John Dean in `73.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, I`ve been looking for it all day to talking to you about this, sir. Thank you for your time tonight.
BESCHLOSS: I`ve been looking forward, too. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks. All right. More ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In May, "The New Yorker" published a rip-roaring spy novel of a profile of a New York prosecutor named Zainab Ahmed. She`s an assistant U.S. attorney in the eastern district of New York and she specializes in prosecutions of terrorist suspects. According to "The New Yorker", Ahmed has logged more hours talking to legitimate al Qaeda members than any other prosecutor in America. She`s prosecuted 13 people for terrorism since 2009. She has never lost a case.
That profile came out in May. By July, she had been recruited by Robert Mueller, where she was working alongside another spy movie ready character whose named Brandon Van Grack, and he is to espionage what she is to terrorism, a veteran espionage prosecutor with the Justice Department and it had been interesting enough when we learned he had been leading the grand jury inquiry the eastern district of Virginia into Michael Flynn.
When Mueller took over all matters involving Flynn in May, Brandon Van Grack was the only prosecutor from that investigation who Mueller kept on. He dismissed everybody else, kept the spy guy. So, you`ve got famed terrorism prosecutor, famed espionage prosecutor working with Mueller for months now. We haven`t known where or when they would turn up. Looky-look, the statement of offense against Mike Flynn, signed Brandon L. Van Grack and Zainab Ahmed.
Want to read some tea leaves? One good place to start might be those two names and their respective prosecutor super powers. Stick a pin in what seems like it maybe a prescient full of wisdom from that "New Yorker" profile of Zainab Ahmed. When it comes to winning cases, quote: Cooperators are the unsung heroes. They always know more than they think they know.
Tell me more.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll 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.
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