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Dems warn: Mueller investigation in peril Transcript 12/21/17 The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Ron Wyden, Brigitte Amiri

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 21, 2017 Guest: Ron Wyden, Brigitte Amiri

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: That`s a big question. Look forward to both of you, writing essays in the future versions of the god that failed, about leaving conservatism, set to be published in four years.

BILL KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD: Only when you write your essay how progressive is a big -- is a myth.

HAYES: Jennifer Rubin and Bill Kristol, thank you both.

That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Recruiting turncoats. I love it.

HAYES: I think there`d be an interesting essay.

MADDOW: They will demand yours first. I understand how this works. Well done, my friend. Thank you.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

All right. Let`s say you live in a house. Your house has a driveway in front. You have a car. You tend to park your car in your driveway, some or all of the time.

So you get home one day, pull your car into your driveway, park your car, get out of your car and you then see a guy jogging down your road. Pretty good pace. Running past your house and you think, OK, no big deal.

Then, a few seconds later, you see two fairly burly dudes running after that guy, chasing him as fast as they can, going full (INAUDIBLE). And from what you can tell, you`re not totally sure, but it kind of looks like those guys who are doing the chasing maybe have guns.

Now in this hypothetical instance, you decide you`re not going to be just a bystander to this chase scene. You decide that you`re going to intervene. And so, you get back in your car, start the engine, throw it in reverse and back your car out. You back your car out so it blocks the road. You block the two burly guys who were chasing the other guy. You physically stop them in the street and those guys stop because they have to but they are really mad at you because you stopped them, and then they tell you that they are cops.

And that is why they, in fact, have guns, and they show you their badges and they`re real badges and they tell you in no uncertain terms the reason they were running so fast down your street is because they were chasing a guy and the guy they were chasing just robbed a bank. You say, oh, no, oh, dear, sorry, officers.

You go back into your car and start it back up, throw it into gear, you pull back into your drive way, you clear the road and they resume their pursuit. Very mad at you.

Now, if you had no idea they were cops, no idea of any of this. If this was an innocent miscalculations of your part, you know, you thought you were doing the right thing, you thought you were stopping an armed assault of some kind -- you know, those cops who you stopped, they`re still going to be mad at you for screwing up their pursuit, but you can at least make the case that what happened here was an honest mistake on your part.

On the other hand, if it turns out the reason you backed your car out of the driveway and stopped those guys is because actually you knew they were cops and the guy jogging down your street ahead of them was actually your little brother who you pretty well knew probably just robbed that bank, so, this whole scheme with you blocking the road, blocking the cops with your car was a deliberate effort to help your brother get away with a bank robbery -- if that turns out to be the case, the cops aren`t just going to be mad at you, they`re going to arrest you for, among other things, you know, criminal obstruction of justice.

Now, OK. Obviously, this is a hypothetical, depending on where you live and what your brother is like and what your car is like and what the cops in your neighborhood are like, it`s quite possible if this happens in real life, everybody gets shot for no good reason, right? But the important thing here for understanding, whether or not this American president gets to keep being president, the important thing about this story is it matters why you did the thing you did. In this case with your hypothetical driveway and the guys running down the street chasing the other guy, it matters not just that you blocked the cops, it matters that you knew that is what you were doing and the reason why you were doing it was because you were trying to help somebody get away with a crime.

The cops are going to be mad either way. If you take actions to obstruct their lawful and reasonable law enforcement activities, they are going to be mad either way, but you`re not going to be criminally in trouble for those actions unless a prosecutor can show and prove that you knew what you were doing. And you knew why you were doing it when you did it.

In our American presidency right now, and this scandal that is roiling in this first year of this presidency, the cops, from our hypothetical scenario, obviously, are the FBI. Beloved little brother bank robber jogging down the street getting chased, that is obviously Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn. The way the president allegedly tried to block the cops in their pursuit in this case was by pressuring the FBI director, right? Pressuring Director Comey for his loyalty, pressuring him thereafter, directly, to drop the FBI investigation into Mike Flynn, and then, of course, allegedly firing the FBI director because he didn`t accede to those demands, right?

And there are some parts of this scenario that are settled. We know for a fact that, you know, Mike Flynn robbed the proverbial bank. You know, he has pled guilty to lying to the FBI. So, we know that he lied to the FBI. We know that the FBI was pursuing him, at least in part, because they knew he was making false statements about his connections with the Russian government.

In our hypothetical, that means we know why the guy was jogging down the street in the first place and we know why the other two guys were racing after him.

But there are two open questions for us as a country, in terms of the president`s liability in this part of the Russia scandal. And both of those open questions we got really important new pieces of information about today. The first basic question is one that is contested by the White House, and so, it therefore has to be seen as at least some what of an open question.

The first question that has been open, in terms of this liability for the president is, did he really put pressure on the FBI? Did the president really back his proverbial car out of the driveway to block the cops who are running down the street after Mike Flynn?

All right. That`s the open question number one. Was there obstruction by the president? Did the president obstruct that lawful and reasonable FBI inquiry? One.

Question two is, if so, was it innocent on the president`s part? I mean, if he did pressure the FBI to back off Mike Flynn, did he know at the time that he was imposing that pressure, that Flynn had robbed the proverbial bank? That he had lied to the FBI? And that`s why these guys were chasing him?

Did he know Flynn had lied to the FBI? Did he know that was, at least in part why the FBI was after him?

You know, as I said, we got important parts of both of those open questions, if not answer tonight, we at least got more information about them. So, that first question, whether or not the president in fact put pressure on the FBI about the Flynn case. Did he block the cops innocently or not while they were trying to go after Flynn?

Now, the basis of the belief that the president did that is the sworn testimony in an open hearing in Congress from the FBI Director James Comey, who was, in fact, fired by the president after what he says was a sustained campaign by President Trump to interfere with the Flynn investigation. According to Comey`s sworn testimony, the president was very unsubtle about it.

Comey says the president demanded his loyalty. Comey says the president told him directly that he hoped James Comey and the FBI would let the Flynn matter go. But this is, as I say, an open question. This is a he said, he said.

The White House denies that the president ever pressured the FBI director about the Flynn investigation. James Comey says the president did. So, it`s he said, he said. But James Comey also has on his side some corroborating evidence. And remember, when we learned all this stuff in the spring, these revelations, these accusations from Comey were so serious and so shocking, they`re basically what led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to start investigating this whole thing.

Comey described under oath what he said were his conversations with the president about dropping the Flynn investigation but then he also told Congress, under oath, that he memorialized those conversations contemporaneously. He wrote up detailed memos immediately after his conversations with the president as FBI agents are trained to do, and he said he didn`t just keep those memos to himself. At the time, he shared them with other senior officials at the FBI.

So, even though by the time he was testifying, these conversations with the president had allegedly happened months before, he also testified that he had made sure there would be real-time corroboration, from the time of those conversations, where multiple senior FBI officials would be able to back up what Comey said at the time had happened. Very serious allegations from the FBI director and seriousness of those revelations from Comey, again, that`s what led to the Mueller appointment.

Well, now tonight, one of those senior FBI officials, who remains at the bureau, remains the deputy director of the FBI, he reportedly told the judiciary and oversight committees under oath in a closed session that, in fact, he is a corroborating witness for James Comey to the fact that those conversations happened between the president and James Comey. According to CNN tonight, quote, Andrew McCabe told lawmakers that Comey, in fact, informed him of conversations he had with President Trump soon after they happened. Testimony suggests McCabe could corroborate Comey`s account.

Quote: Earlier this year, Comey testified that he briefed senior FBI officials about at least two conversations with Trump. The January dinner where Trump asked for loyalty, and the February meeting where Trump asked Comey to go easy on former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who was under FBI investigation. FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has now reportedly testified in Congress that Comey did, in fact, tell him at the time about those conversations.

OK. So, this is going to be a problem for the White House. If their position on whether or not the president criminally obstructed justice hinges on their contention that President Trump never told James Comey to ease up on the Flynn investigation, well, one man`s word versus another man`s word is not a great basis for an indictment or prosecution, but when one man`s word in that kind of a he said, he said, one side is bolstered by contemporaneous detailed memos written by a trained FBI official and bolstered by contemporaneous reporting to other senior FBI officials who are now starting to testify under oath that, in fact, they got those notifications contemporaneously at the time those conversations happened? That`s not he said, he said anymore. That`s going to be difficult for the president, in terms of his liability on obstruction.

OK. So, that`s the first open question. Did the president try to obstruct the FBI inquiry? New information on that tonight, in terms of a corroborating witness coming forward under oath. Tough for the White House.

But as we know, from your bad decision to back your car up in front of those cops out of your driveway, the question isn`t just, did you obstruct an investigation, did you block the cops? The question is, did you know why you were doing it when you did it? Were you trying knowingly to help somebody get away with a crime?

And on that part of the potential obstruction of justice case against the president, we also have new and potentially very dangerous reporting for the White House today. Again, crucial legal question here is, if it can be proven that the president did try to derail the FBI investigation into Flynn, crucial question is, did he know that Flynn had committed a crime at the time he did that? Did the president know Flynn committed a crime and that`s why the FBI was after him?

Did the president know? This is an empirical question. This is an empire call question about a knowable thing. The president must know one way or the other, if he had been advised or if he believed that Mike Flynn had lied to the FBI, and that`s why the FBI was after him.

The president knows if he knew, before Flynn resigned, did he know? After Flynn resigned, did he know? Did he know at any time before Flynn pled guilt to those charges, right?

This is a knowable thing. But the president himself and White House steadfastly will not answer that question.


REPORTER: A few quick questions for you, statement of facts, when did the president know that Mike Flynn lied at the FBI?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As I said earlier, I referred you to John`s clarification, and that was --

REPORTER: I`m asking for a day, when did he find out? Was it when the announcement was made Friday, was it prior to that?

SANDERS: Again, I`m not aware of the specifics, but I would refer you to John Dowd for that specific question. I would actually refer you to John Dowd on that specific question --

REPORTER: No problem. Point to you, you have weighed in on other special counsel issues before. Statement of fact during administration, what day the president discovered this lie issue.

SANDERS: And I`m telling you as a statement of fact you should contact John Dowd. It doesn`t seem that hard.

REPORTER: I`ll ask on Monday when the president became aware that Michael Flynn lied at the FBI, you referred her to John Dowd, those of you tried John Dowd, he`s not engaging. That`s a knowable fact in this building. It`s not a legal matter for the attorney to say. Can you tell us when the president became aware of that?

SANDERS: The attorneys feel differently and feel this is a question that should be answered by them and I`ll encourage them again to respond to you, but I`m going to have to refer you to John Dowd again.

REPORTER: It`s a legal question not about something the president knew and when he knew it.

SANDERS: John Decker is the only attorney in here. I`ll listen to the attorneys on this one and John Dowd will hopefully follow up with you on short order.


MADDOW: John Dowd did not follow up with anybody in short order.

The White House has said, over and over and over and over again, even under considerable pressure from the press corps, they keep saying that the president`s Russia attorney, John Dowd, will be the one who answers this question, about whether the president knew that Mike Flynn had lied to the FBI. The president`s Russia attorney will not, in fact, answer this question, nor will the president himself.

Sometimes he pretends like he hasn`t heard the question when it gets asked to him. Sometimes he pretends like he`s answered it before and we all already know the answer.


REPORTER: Mr. President, will you --

REPORTER: When did you find out Michael Flynn lied at the FBI? When did you find out?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT O THE UNITED STATES: What else is there? You know the answer. How many times has that question been asked? Yes, go ahead.

REPORTER: No, no --

REPORTER: Mr. President, when did you find out he lied to the FBI?


MADDOW: This matters, because if the president is potentially criminally liable on obstruction of justice, prosecutors will need to prove he not only tried to block the FBI`s investigation into Mike Flynn, but that he also knew that Flynn had committed a crime, that Flynn had lied to the FBI. And that`s why the FBI was after him.

And the White House just won`t say, won`t say one way or the other, which is remarkable. Well, now at, reporter Murray Waas has what may be a bombshell new report that says, in fact, the president did know that Mike Flynn had lied to the FBI. He knew right away, well before Mike Flynn resigned and he knew because the White House counsel told him.

Quote: The White House has turned over records to special counsel Robert Mueller revealing in the very first days of the Trump presidency, White House counsel Don McGahn researched federal law dealing both with lying to federal investigator and with violations of the Logan Act. The records reflected concerns that McGahn had, that Michael Flynn had possibly violated either one or both laws at the time.

The disclosure that these records exist and that they`re in possession of the special counsel could bolster any potential obstruction of justice case against President Donald Trump. The records that McGahn turned over to the special counsel indicate that he researched both statutes and that he warned President Trump about Flynn`s possible violations.

Quote, a senior administration official close to McGahn said he felt like the president and others in the administration at times were using him and his office as scapegoats for Trump keeping Flynn, for example, Reince Priebus, then the president`s chief of staff, said on "Meet the Press" in February that Trump did not take sooner action regarding Flynn because the legal department came back and said they didn`t see anything wrong. The records turned over to the special counsel appear to contradict such a narrative. They show that McGahn researched both statutes, clearly raised issues as to Flynn possibly violated federal law and that White House counsel Don McGahn voiced these concerns to President Trump after meeting with the Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

If this new reporting from "Foreign Policy" is true, if there are White House records that show that the White House counsel knew that Flynn lied to the FBI, that he was aware that that was a criminal act and that he conveyed that information to the president, that will be like an anvil falling on one side of the scale as people try to balance considerations here about whether the president is likely to face criminal liability for obstruction of justice. If Murray Waas` reporting in "Foreign Policy" is correct, that there are not just people who will say the president knew, but there are documents that prove it and Mueller`s got those documents -- well, that`s a very big deal.

It`s always a very big if. The sourcing here in this piece from "Foreign Policy" is opaque. No other news organizations have corroborated this specific reporting. And it is worth noting that this account, which is sourced to reportedly to sources close to White House counsel Don McGahn, it directly contradicts what multiple White House officials and the president himself have said about how this went down.


SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House counsel of the situation, the White House counsel briefed the president and a small group of senior advisers. The White House counsel reviewed and determined that there is not an illegal issue. When the president heard the information as presented by White House counsel, he instinctively thought that General Flynn did not do anything wrong and the White House counsel`s review corroborated that.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: The White House was notified that Flynn was at risk of compromised and blackmail. My question is, why allow someone in a very sensitive job to stay on for 18 days (INAUDIBLE) overnight?

TRUMP: Because my White House counsel, Don McGahn, came back to me, it did not sound like an emergency of any -- didn`t make it sound like he was, you know, and she actually didn`t make it sound that way, either, in the hearings the other way, like it had to be done immediately.

REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Sometime after January 27th, it was -- our legal counsel got a heads up from Sally Yates that something wasn`t adding up with his story, and so then our legal department went into a review of the situation. The legal department came back and said that they didn`t see anything wrong with what was actually said.


MADDOW: That`s the president himself, White House spokesman at the time, White House chief of staff at the time all saying nobody ever told them. White House counsel definitely didn`t tell them that Mike Flynn had broken the law.

In fact, the White House counsel, as far as they`re concerned, looked at it, investigated whether or not Mike Flynn had broken the law and determined overtly that Mike Flynn had not broken the law. And that was conveyed to the president.

That`s the story from those former White House officials and from the president. According to this new reporting on "Foreign Policy", the opposite is true and according to the new reporting in "Foreign Policy", not only is the opposite true, according to sources close to the White House counsel, but there are documents that show that the White House counsel was told what Mike Flynn had done, he researched the law in those matters, he concluded that Flynn had broken the law and had likely lied to the FBI and then the White House counsel advised the president of that fact.

Either the White House counsel told the president that or the White House counsel didn`t tell the president that, both of those stories cannot be true. And it`s going to get particularly hairy if the White House counsel, Don McGahn says, I did tell you guys he lied to the FBI, and somebody like Reince Priebus is going to say, no, you didn`t. You never told us that.

If those two are going to be at loggerheads on this, that`s going to get hairy, in part because Don McGahn and Reince Priebus, right now, have the same lawyer, representing them both on the Russia investigation. That is instantly awkward if the two of them are telling factually inconsistent, factually conflicting accounts about something that may decide whether or not the president is criminally on the hook for obstruction of justice.

More broadly, I should say, if the White House counsel is going to completely contradict to the president and the whole White House line, all these other senior officials in terms of what they`re saying about Mike Flynn and whether or not the president should be legally be on the hook for obstructing justice in the Flynn case, the White House counsel is going to stand against all of the rest of the White House on this, that`s a big, big deal. It`s not unprecedented.

White House counsel John Dean was probably the single most important witness against Nixon in Watergate. But Nixon also fired John Dean in Watergate, before John Dean started singing his own tune.

Don McGahn right now still works at the White House. So, if he`s handing stuff over to Mueller that says the president`s legally on the hook for obstruction of justice -- it`s going to have a really big effect on the president`s future. It`s weird that he`s still working there, right?

We contacted the White House tonight, we could get no comment from them, including from the White House counsel`s office. We contacted White House counsel Don McGahn`s personal lawyer, who`s also Reince Priebus` lawyer, we could get no comment from him. We contacted the president`s Russia lawyers tonight, we could get no comment from them, which is particularly interesting, because of the reporting that the president`s Russia lawyers may be meeting with Robert Mueller and his team now, today or tomorrow, sometime late this week, to talk about the president`s fate in this investigation.

So, there are a lot of important pieces of this moving right now. This is an important time. And just keep your eye on the fact that we now may be getting senior serving FBI officials for the first time under oath testifying that, yes, they can corroborate James Comey`s testimony about Trump pressuring him to drop the Flynn investigation. If that is starting to happen, it is probably no surprise that the Republican`s attacks on the FBI are entering this intense new phase.

We got that jaw-dropping new reporting last night from that Republicans for weeks have been working on a secret effort in Congress to take documents for the House Intelligence Committee`s Russia investigation and instead, they`re repurposing those documents to use them for their own parallel secret Republican-only working group in which they are trying to indict the FBI. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe did do seven hours with the House Intelligence Committee two days ago. Today, he was scheduled for six hours of testimony with a different Republican-led committee.

Interestingly, NBC News reporting today that that testimony for McCabe started more than an hour late. He was on time, but the Republicans who head that committee, they didn`t show up on time. Instead, they huddled, alone, amongst themselves, to reportedly plot their strategy for how they were going to approach the questioning of McCabe and they showed up more than an hour after the meeting was supposed to start.

Whatever the end game for pro-Trump Republicans in Congress going after the FBI, Democrats are clearly very fired up and very on alert about whatever it is that`s going on. On his way into the McCabe hearing today, Democrat Elijah Cummings shot off this Roman candle.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: To the press, I beg you to get it right because you are recording this history. You got to get it right. This is a fight for the soul of our democracy. Nothing less.

And so -- I`m going to work hard to make sure we save that democracy, and I will fight until I die.

CIA criticized, FBI criticized, over and over and over again. Now, the rumors, and I hope that`s all they are, of Mueller possibly being fired. I hope that`s not true.

But those are the kinds of things that tear down a democracy, because they are the very things that a democracy is based upon. And I say to all Americans, and I beg you to guard this democracy. Guard it.


MADDOW: Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on oversight, just the latest Democrat in the last couple of days to sound a loud alarm about whatever it is that`s going on with the Republicans going after the FBI right now.

A brand-new alarm was sounded by another very senior Democrat late this afternoon. He says he`s going to block Trump nominees until he gets his way on what he is most worried about right now. That story, and that senator, coming up.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Funny thing happened last night on this show. We had Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. Former prosecutor. Very serious. Very careful in his speaking style. Never a word out of place, never about unintentional utterance.

He`s a very -- he`s charismatic guy reasonably speaking. But he`s very reserved. He`s very deliberate.

So, he was here last night. I was asked him about this story that broke last night, that there`s a secret working group of Republicans who have been using documents from the Intelligence Committee`s Russia investigation to instead try to somehow indict the FBI. He`s the top Democrat on that committee. So, I`m getting his reaction to that news.

And he does something unexpected. The world`s most carefully spoken congressman, he basically just did a cannon ball into the pool. I was not asking him about where he went here, but he just went there, on his own. Watch.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Listening to Republican members talk about a coup and talk about criminal activity in the FBI, that will encourage the president to think that he can fire Mueller with impunity or perhaps even more pernicious from my point of view, fire Rod Rosenstein, put in place someone who will tell Bob Mueller privately, you cannot look into these issues, you cannot follow the money, you cannot consider investigate whether the Russians laundered money through the Trump organization, guaranteed loans for the Trump organization, you can`t look at any of those things that could provide leverage over this president by the Russians.


MADDOW: What`s that about all the money stuff? The White House may want to put someone in charge of the Mueller investigation, the congressman volunteers, who will tell Mueller, you cannot investigate whether the Russians laundered money through the Trump Organization. You cannot investigation whether Russians guaranteed loans to the Trump Organization. You can`t look at any of these things that could provide leverage over this president by Russia.

Who -- who, what now? Russia laundering money through the Trump Organization? Russia guaranteeing loans to the Trump Organization and thereby getting leverage over this president? Where did that come from?

I don`t know. But Adam Schiff is a very careful, deliberate speaker. I`ve been wondering all day why he brought that up, why he sent up that particular flag.

And then tonight, on the Senate floor, Senator Ron Wyden, I think, maybe broke it open. Now, I think we know what that warning was about and why it is being issued urgently when they are not even being asked about it.

Senator Wyden is here to explain, next.



SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), RANKING MEMBER FINANCE COMMITTEE: -- in 2017, I began asking the committee leadership to look into any and all financial relationships between Russia and Donald Trump and his associates. These financial ties need to be a central focus of the intelligence committee`s inquiry.

Unfortunately, I and our committee has gotten no cooperation from the Treasury Department. Despite my repeated requests as the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, the Treasury Department has just stonewalled, plain old stonewalling the lead committee with jurisdiction for the agency.

For that reason, I want to announce tonight, Mr. President, that I will hold indefinitely the nomination of the individual to be assistant secretary of the treasury for intelligence and analysis until the department cooperates with the Finance Committee and provides the committee with documents it needs to do its job.


MADDOW: Joining us now is Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. He`s also a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

And you saw him announce on the Senate floor tonight that he`s going to hold an important treasury nominee, because he says treasury is not complying with reasonable requests for documents on the Russia investigation.

Senator Wyden, thank you for your time.

WYDEN: Thank you.

MADDOW: What is it that you want from the Treasury Department that you`re not getting?

WYDEN: Well, we aren`t even able, Rachel, to get material that`s not classified. And let`s be clear about what`s going on here? Following the money is counterintelligence 101. If you want to compromise somebody, money is one of the best ways to do it.

That`s why the Manafort matter is so significant. The second count is tax evasion. He isn`t going to be able to sweep all these details under those expensive rugs, and that`s why we`re going to get to the bottom of it.

MADDOW: In terms of the competing investigations here, or the coinciding investigations here, we were able to confirm within the past week that both Deutsche Bank, which is the president`s largest lender, and Wells Fargo, which is -- we`re not exactly sure of the connection of Wells Fargo to the matters under investigation, they have both been served subpoenas from the Mueller investigation.

What is it that you think the Senate investigation, the Senate ought to be investigating alongside what Mueller clearly is?

WYDEN: Well, I`m not going to get into matters that we`re looking at, because you can`t do it, but I`ve always felt that following the money is how you connect the dots.

Look, the Trump family said in 2009 much of their portfolio is Russian money. This is the first president in 40 years who has not been willing to disclose his tax returns. You mentioned the tax bill and the finance committee. Clearly, these pass-through provisions could be of enormous benefit to the president. And that`s why we`ve got to connect the dots.

And I`m just not going to sit by and let the follow the money issues get short tripped. There are two big questions. Following the money and then, what you`ve been talking about tonight, if there is any effort to interfere with the investigation or actually firing Bob Mueller, I think that would be a criminal act. And I think it would be an assault on the rule of law and it would be obligate the Congress to step in and check presidential abuse of power.

MADDOW: Why do you say it would be a criminal act? Clearly, it would be a huge political matter. It would be a huge political risk for the president to do a lot of people would criticize the president for doing it. But in what sense would it -- would it be criminal?

WYDEN: We`ll start with obstruction of justice as just one thing, but there are a whole host of other matters. Look, it is clear that Bob Mueller, a decorated marine, he has been doing this investigation by the book. And it`s clear that what we`ve seen in the last few days is really a smear effort, an effort particularly because this White House, I think, is concerned that Bob Mueller is really digging into the essential issues, which I think really are the follow the money questions, and I think both with respect to the FBI and Mr. Mueller, you`re really seeing something of a smear campaign under way.

MADDOW: We saw Senator Warner give remarks at length on the Senate floor yesterday, warning about the efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation. We saw you giving your remarks on the Senate floor tonight. Congressman Adam Schiff has been sounding the alarm about his own committee and now about the possibility for firing not just Mueller, but potentially Rosenstein as something that would also be an affront. Elijah Cummings pleaded with America to guard democracy on this front.

Clearly, a lot of Democrats that are intensely involved in the investigations, including yourself, are fired up and very much alert.

Is there something going on among either Republican colleagues in Congress or that you can see happening in the White House that is leading to this acute concern that you guys are displaying right now, or is it just that you`re seeing the same trends in conservative media and Republican rhetoric that we`re all seeing?

WYDEN: The reason to be especially vigilant right now is we all understand that Congress wrapped up tonight, people are on holiday. This is the time when you always have to be concerned about potential abuse of power, and that`s why I wanted to make it clear that I think every single member of Congress, every Democrat, every Republican has got to make it clear that interfering with this investigation or firing Bob Mueller would constitute a criminal act and every single member of Congress would have to step in and defend the Constitution.

MADDOW: Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon -- Senator, thank you for helping us understand your take on this.

WYDEN: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: I really appreciate it.

All right. We`ve got more ahead tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: In March 2016, Donald Trump was still just a candidate for president, and he did a town hall in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with my friend Chris Matthews. I maintain that there is no one better in America at interviewing Donald Trump than Chris Matthews. And that day in Green Bay, Wisconsin, more than anything, proved why. Here`s what we remember, still, from their head to head comments that night.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST, HARDBALL: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no as a principle? TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment. MATTHEWS: For the woman. TRUMP: Yeah, there has to be some form. MATTHEWS: Ten cents? Ten years? What? TRUMP: I don`t know. That I don`t know. That I don`t know. MATTHEWS: Why not? TRUMP: I don`t know. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Ii don`t know, I don`t know. I`m Donald Trump. I`m powerless before you Chris Matthews.

Almost two years on from that, President Trump still does not have much more clarity on that difficult issue and now that he`s president, that`s about to become a very big headache for his administration in very specific ways. And that`s next.


MADDOW: -- in October about a pregnant 17-year-old girl, an immigrant to this country, who was living in a shelter run by the federal government in Texas. She`s pregnant, she wanted to have an abortion, even though she is legally entitled to do that at her own discretion, a Trump administration official blocked her from leaving the facility in order to get a legal abortion.

Eventually, the ACLU stepped in to assert that young woman`s rights, and a federal appeals court judge finally allowed that 17-year-old girl to get the abortion that she wanted.

Now, the federal agency, the federal official that`s tried to block these young women from obtaining legal abortions, it`s the office of refugee resettlement, which is part of Health and Human Services. This agency, and the man who heads it, are still on this crusade against immigrant teenage girls who want to get abortions. These fights are continuing. And the ACLU has continued their side of the fight.

Recently, they were trying to get the Office of Refugee Resettlement to explain their reasoning behind their continued efforts to block these young women from accessing legal abortions. Well, today, the ACLU got the government to release an extraordinary memo from Scott Lloyd, who is the Trump appointee anti-abortion activist who`s now in charge of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. He`s the guy who appears to have made it a personal crusade to go after these teenage girls.

In a current case involving a teenage girl who`s pregnant, he was trying to block from getting an abortion, this Trump appointee Scott Lloyd describes the young woman`s pregnancy, in this case, as a result of a rape in her home country before she arrived in the United States. He acknowledges that, but then goes on to say on behalf of the government of the United States, he still wants to compel this girl, he still wants to force this girl against her will, to bear her rapist`s child.

Quote, abortion does not cure the reality that she is the victim of an assault. Quote, it is possible and likely this woman would experience the abortion as an additional trauma, on top of the trauma she experiences as a result of her sexual assault. For that part, he cites a website for a Catholic ministry against abortion.

His memo continues, quote, to decline to assist an abortion here is to decline to participate in violence against an innocent life. And although he says he disagrees with the notion that his office is forcing this woman to carry her pregnancy to term, he also says, quote, I am convinced assisting with an abortion in this case is not in her best interest. Right. Despite what she says.

He ends the memo saying, quote, we have to choose, and we ought to choose to protect life, rather than to destroy it.

This is from the director of a government agency, a federal government agency, here in this country in 2017, where abortion is legal and has been legal for decades.

Joining us now is Brigitte Amiri. She`s a senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, who`s been very much involved in this fight.

Ms. Amiri, thank you very much for being here.


MADDOW: We talked about this in October with another one of your clients.

AMIRI: We did.

MADDOW: And we talked about, at that time, the likelihood that this was going to become the federal government`s M.O. here. They`re continuing with their same efforts in the same way.

AMIRI: That`s exactly right. We knew other young women need care and we were exactly right. This week, we were in court on behalf of two young women, the one noted in memo and another one, and we had to fight the Trump administration yet again to ensure those young women were able to get the care they needed and they were constitutionally entitled to receive.

MADDOW: So, tell us about this from a bigger perspective. So, there`s a young woman, in a circumstance like this, say she wasn`t pregnant, let`s say she has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, or diagnosed with something else that turns up in the process of her being detained by the U.S. government during the middle of the immigration process.

What happens to a young woman`s health care in that situation? The federal government takes on the responsibility for providing that, yes?

AMIRI: Yes. And that`s a legal requirement. The federal government provides access to medical care for this population, without question. Abortion is singled out for unique treatment.

And what we have seen is that the Trump administration has a policy of trying to coerce young women to carry their pregnancies to term and if that fails, they outright block them from accessing abortion.

MADDOW: Physically, by not allowing them to go to medical appointments.

AMIRI: Correct. They have the key, basically, to the shelter, where they`re staying and they prohibit the shelter from allowing these young women to be transported for the purposes of obtaining an abortion or receiving abortion counseling.

MADDOW: Now, what`s the difference between how the federal government is handling this for girls under age 18 as opposed to women over the age of 18?

AMIRI: That`s another bizarre part of this story, is that the federal government, for adults in ICE custody, the custody for undocumented immigrants, they allow access to abortion and federal prisons also allow access to abortion. And so, it is very unique to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

And, really, what this is all about Scott Lloyd`s anti-abortion ideology. He is imposing his beliefs about abortion on these young women to deny them care.

MADDOW: Now, you have been winning these legal cases.

AMIRI: We have.

MADDOW: But your victories in these legal cases are not prohibiting them, not changing the behavior at the agency so they stop doing this in a case by case basis.

AMIRI: That is true for now, though we`re trying to strike the policy down. So, we have motions pending with the federal district court judge to allow us to proceed as a class action on behalf of all pregnant young women in the care of Office of Refugee Resettlement, and then a preliminary injunction that would prohibit the government from enforcing this policy against that class action.

MADDOW: One of the things I`m struck by in reading the details of these cases of your individual clients is that some of them are quite far along in their pregnancies when these things are being fought. Is it your sense that part of this strategy for this agency and this one particular crusading appointee is they are trying to stretch out individual legal fights over each of these young women so their pregnancy gets, goes further along in time so they legally can`t obtain an abortion anywhere?

AMIRI: Definitely pushing the legal fight, but also even before they come to our attention, dragging their feet, not making a decision, delaying their abortion for weeks before maybe we even hear about it. And the only way we heard about the two young women is through anonymous tips.

So, we don`t know how many other young women are out there, who need abortion, and we also don`t know how long that the government is pushing them further into their pregnancies, making them remain pregnant against their will, day after day, until we are able to go to court and intervene.

MADDOW: Even in this case, where they acknowledge that the pregnancy is the result of a rape and they want to force the young woman to do this against her will anyway.

These remarkable case studies and remarkable fight.

Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, thanks for helping us understand.

AMIRI: Thank you. Thank you so much.

MADDOW: Thank you.

All right, we`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: So, yesterday, Republicans passed their tax bill, which, among lots and lots and lots of other things, will gut Obamacare. It will result in 13 million Americans losing health insurance. It`s also expected to result in everybody`s health insurance premiums spiking, starting next year. That happened yesterday.

Then today, we learned that almost 9 million people signed up for Obamacare in the latest enrollment period. Upon hearing this news, the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, announced that Republicans will probably move on from further efforts to erase Obamacare next year.

In an interview with NPR today, Senator McConnell said, quote, we obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with a 52-48 Senate. We will have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate and probably move on to other issues.

Really? You sure? Going to abandon the whole repeal and replace thing after you tried 70-plus times to do that? At least you said so?

Now, instead, you`re just going to yank out the guts of Obamacare and hope it`s fun to watch while you don`t try to fix it at all? No replacement idea? Nothing?

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

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" hosted by the great Joy Ann Reid.

Hello, Joy.




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