Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 3, 2018 Guest: Neal Katyal, Richard Blumenthal
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks at home for joining us this hour.
OK. A lot happened today. The good news is, we`ve got this hour together here on TV to sort it out.
I will tell you right now, we`ve got more guests than we usually have on the show this hour. That is specifically because I wanted to get experts and lawyers and reporters on the air to explain each of these big surprise developments in today`s news, one after other, piece by piece.
So, we`re going to get to a lot tonight and we`re going to get a lot of expert help figuring it out. Here`s basically the table of contents, though, and I promise you we`re going to untangle these one after the other over the course of this hour.
All right. When we started the news cycle today, when we got up this morning, we thought the big news of the day was going to be the new book from journalist Michael Wolff, where everybody that currently in and recently out of the Trump administration frankly says terrible things about each other, right? Steve Bannon reportedly says Ivanka Trump is dumb as a brick and the president reportedly calls former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates the "C" word. And Tom Barrack reportedly one of the president`s closest friends reportedly calls the president not only crazy, but stupid.
All right. There is quite a collection of human drama and ripe insults in this new book. And we will get to some of that tonight, including the president putting out a rip-roaring written statement insulting Steve Bannon, his former White House chief strategist, the man who happened to be running his campaign when he won the presidential election.
So, that`s all out there as of today. But I have to tell you, there is some nonhuman drama news in this book that is perhaps less soap opera, less human intrigue, but more legal liability. There are a couple of serious claims in this new book, apparently by people in a position to know, that could indicate new liability we didn`t know about before for the president and members of his family on obstruction of justice.
So, yes, for sure, the insults and the damning anecdotes are impossible to turn away from. The former deputy chief of staff from the president saying that the president is like a child. Some saying that the president may only be semi-literate. There`s a lot there. And we will get to that tonight.
But this is also a White House in the crosshairs of the biggest criminal and counterintelligence investigation ever mounted against any U.S. president ever. And so, watch for these newly unearthed potential legal liabilities to be triggers for upset in the White House and potentially for renewed aggression by the White House and Republicans who support the White House against the special counsel and the FBI.
And on that front, there`s a whole lot of stuff that just happened today. And lot of it was a surprise.
Let`s start with the U.S. attorneys. You`ll remember that back in March, President Trump fired all the U.S. attorneys, all the federal prosecutors all around the country. Now, it`s within a president`s purview to do that, and other presidents have gotten rid of all of them, too, but nobody has ever done it like Trump did it.
That mass firing of all the U.S. attorneys, it happened without warning, without notice. When federal prosecutors were removed by presidents in the past, they were given time to plan for the seamless handing off of their work, right? Making sure nothing was disrupted.
In March, though, when Trump did it, he just told all the prosecutors, you`re gone. Today. Get out, immediately. That is totally unprecedented.
Now, that mass firing of all the prosecutors included the very high profile U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York, in Manhattan, Preet Bharara. Despite the fact that Trump had met personally with Preet Bharara and told him that he should expect to keep that job in the Trump administration. Now, that firing in particular had stuck in people`s craw because it was such an abrupt U-turn by the president on that one prosecutor, and that particular prosecutor Preet Bharara happened to be the one which -- who had the Trump organization geographically within his jurisdiction, as well as wide jurisdiction to pursue financial crimes of all sorts because so many banks and financial institutions globally route all their transactions through New York City.
So, those firings happened in March. There were dozens of them. The most high profile one was Preet Bharara, but there was no time for the U.S. attorneys to plan for the orderly succession of their offices. They were fired and told to get out that day.
Now, luckily, there is something called the Vacancies Reform Act, which establishes an orderly process for who takes over in cases like this, when federal officials get yanked out of their positions with no notice.
For these fired prosecutors, for these fired U.S. attorneys, they were all replaced, the day they were fired, by the first assistants who were already serving in those offices. That`s thanks to the federal Vacancies Reform Act. Here`s the problem, though, the federal Vacancies Reform Act has an expiration date. It tells you who is going to run in office after you fire someone, but it only tells you who is going to run that office after you fire someone for the first 300 days after the firing. Then, by the end of 300 days, the administration is supposed to have picked somebody new to run that office.
Trump fired all the U.S. attorneys in March. Three hundred days since when he fired them is tomorrow. He hasn`t replaced them. So, right quick, today, with the 300-day deadline rolling up on us tonight at midnight, they just today appointed 17 new U.S. attorneys to take over federal prosecutors offices all over the country, on the very last day that they could, with hours to spare.
And part of what`s important about this is that they really did just fire all the senior federal prosecutors all across the country with no plan and 300 days later, they`re still scrambling to figure out what to do in those offices. But through this ridiculous process they went through today, this very last minute process where they, all of a sudden, appointed 17 new people all over the country to go take these jobs, what they did today, they have also made some choice decisions, including in that key district in Manhattan, right, the Preet Bharara district, this district is home to Trump Tower, it`s home to the Trump Organization, it`s home to the entire banking sector in the world. It`s home to a lot that the Trump family holds near and dear.
Well, in that crucial jurisdiction, the new interim U.S. attorney in Manhattan will be Rudy Giuliani`s law partner. The law partner of one of the president`s closest allies.
So, if hypothetically, just spinning this out, hypothetically, if the president and Republicans who support the president succeeded in dismantling the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation, conceivably any evidence that Robert Mueller turned up that has criminal implications for the Trump Organization, or say the Kushner family businesses in Manhattan, that evidence, the potential for those prosecutions would redound to federal prosecutors in the relevant jurisdictions, like Manhattan, which will now be led by Rudy Giuliani`s law partner.
Or, conceivably, that evidence would find its way to the eastern district of New York, Brooklyn. The Brooklyn D.A., the eastern district of New York U.S. attorney, has reportedly subpoenaed banking records related to Jared Kushner in recent weeks already. Well, that office, too, just got a new person put in charge. Today, got a new interim U.S. attorney appointed by the Trump administration.
So, these all of a sudden down to the wire last minute 300 days are up interim U.S. attorney appointments that happened today are potentially very, very important. And so, we`re going to have more on that coming up over the course of the show tonight. Now, in terms of the Mueller investigation directly, CNN was first to report today that the president`s lawyers have met with Robert Mueller and his investigators.
Now, we do not know what happened at this long awaited meeting between the president`s legal team and the special counsel`s legal team. But CNN notes, quote, the Trump lawyers are no longer putting dates on when they expect the Mueller investigation to end, after previously predicting an end by Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, and then by the end of this past year.
So, you know, there were two big developments today on the Republican effort to block or stymie the Mueller investigation, or, at least to politically bloody the FBI enough so that the investigation may get hurt in the process. I said a lot happened tonight, a lot has happened today and into tonight. But on this, what we seem to be seeing in terms of a concerted effort by Republicans to try to derail or stymie or somehow deride the Mueller investigation, first thing I want to tell you about was this surprise tonight, this moment. You`ll remember that back in March, actually, a week before Trump fired all the U.S. attorneys, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from overseeing any investigation at the Justice Department that pertained to the 2016 campaign, including the Russia investigation.
When Jeff Sessions as attorney general made that recusal, that made this man, Rod Rosenstein, the de facto attorney general in charge of overseeing any investigations related to the 2016 campaign including the Russia investigation. This is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He`s the one who appointed the special counsel Robert Mueller. He`s the one who Mueller reports to at the Justice Department.
Rod Rosenstein was appointed by President Trump. He`s a Republican. Nobody quite knows what to make of him and his inclinations on the Russia investigation, which he has steadfastly refused to discuss in public, other than to say that he believes Mueller is doing a good job and that he`s the right man for the job.
But then today, surprise, whole bunch of reporters, including Scott Wong from "The Hill" newspaper, were staking out Paul Ryan`s office. They were staking out the speaker of the House, his office today, hoping to catch some news about budget negotiations in Congress.
They`re all outside Paul Ryan`s office when -- hey now, here comes, isn`t that Rod Rosenstein? And his security detail? Yes, there`s the deputy attorney general filing into House Speaker Paul Ryan`s office. What he is doing here?
Reporters including Scott Wong were soon able to suss out that although nobody knew this was coming, Rod Rosenstein, in fact, was there at Paul Ryan`s office to talk with him about the Russia investigation. We later learned that the meeting is something that Rod Rosenstein had asked for, then it turned out that the FBI Director Chris Wray was in that meeting, too.
And then it turned out what they were meeting about was the Russia investigation and we can even narrow it down even further.
All right, this, the fact that this meeting, though, was a surprise to everybody, right? What`s going on here? Speaker of the House is technically the most powerful person in the legislative branch. And while all these very controversial inquiries have been underway in the House, right, technically under his leadership, Speaker Paul Ryan has mostly been able to stay out of the whole Russia story.
But here today was the head of the FBI and the de facto attorney general overseeing the Mueller investigation showing up at Ryan`s office to talk to him about the Russia matter in what was a surprise to everyone.
Now, here`s what we think happened. We believe that the Justice Department tonight was poised to hand over to congressional Republicans, specifically to Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, who was on the Trump transition team, who is one of the most aggressive Trump partisans in the House. We believe from our reporting that the Justice Department tonight was poised to hand over to Devin Nunes documents that he had demanded from the Justice Department and from the FBI that were potentially very sensitive about the ongoing Robert Mueller investigation.
Devin Nunes had sent this letter to the Justice Department between Christmas and New Year`s, demanding that they hand over all FBI interview summaries and all reports from meetings between FBI agents and confidential human sources that related to the dossier of alleged Russian dirt on Donald Trump that was first collected by veteran British spy Christopher Steele. Christopher Steele`s central allegation, of course, was that that Russian government interfered in the U.S. election in 2016 to try to hurt Clinton and help Trump. That central finding of Steele`s dossier was, of course, borne out and affirmed in the U.S. intelligence assessment on the Russia campaign that came out a year ago this week.
Recent reporting including from "The New York Times" this past week and "The Guardian" a few months ago suggests that there were other intelligence streams behind the Steele dossier that led the FBI to start its counterintelligence inquiry into the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia, but the Steele dossier was definitely something that the FBI looked at hard. We know Christopher Steele showed the dossier to an FBI agent in the late summer of 2016 during the presidential campaign. We know the FBI sent a team to debrief him on his dossier and his findings a month before the presidential election.
Whether the FBI then followed up with sources or did their own interviews and investigations to disprove or verify or build on what Christopher Steele found, well, wouldn`t you like to know, Devin Nunes? Wouldn`t you like to see their interview transcripts and their meetings, the FBI reports from their meetings with confidential human sources?
Now, our reporting indicates tonight that Nunes was poised to get documents from the FBI and the DOJ tonight in response to his letter demanding that they hand over this sensitive FBI investigatory material right in the middle of the Mueller investigation. But then, surprise, they were -- we believe the Justice Department was poised to hand that over, but then, surprise, the Justice Department didn`t actually hand over anything to Devin Nunes tonight.
And at, like, 4:30 this afternoon, in walks the Justice Department to Paul Ryan`s office, the deputy attorney general and the head of the FBI. They walk into the office of the man who could be construed to be Devin Nunes` boss in Congress, right?
Devin Nunes is the head of the intelligence committee in the House, but Paul Ryan is the head of the House. So, the top officials in the DOJ and the FBI went directly to Paul Ryan tonight. We are told they were there to talk about the Russia investigation and Devin Nunes in particular.
Wow. That`s something. And I say it`s something, because I have no idea what that is. We really don`t know what happened there.
Speaker Ryan`s office is referring people to the Justice Department and the FBI. The Justice Department and the FBI are saying nothing about what happened here, but this was a surprise meeting. And those documents that were supposed to go to Devin Nunes tonight did not go there, and conceivably those documents could have been opening up very sensitive stuff from the middle of the Mueller investigation while it`s under way. Drama.
And that brings us to the last thing I want to get to off the top of the show tonight, which is the first direct effort by anybody in the orbit of President Trump to try to shut down the Mueller investigation directly. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was, of course, indicted in October on multiple felony charges. His trial is due to start on May 7th.
Today, Paul Manafort and his lawyers filed a civil lawsuit against the special counsel Robert Mueller. Also against the Justice Department official who appointed Robert Mueller and who oversees his investigation, good old Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Now, I`m not a lawyer, but I think it might be a little weird that Manafort has filed this as a civil lawsuit, wouldn`t you just file this in your own case? But what his civil lawsuit is demanding is that the order appointing Robert Mueller be declared invalid. That the actions taken by Robert Mueller since he`s been special counsel be voided and, yes, that would presumably involve voiding the indictment of Paul Manafort.
And Manafort is demanding an order and judgment declaring that Mr. Mueller lacks authority to investigate business dealings not arising from the original jurisdiction set out in the order that appointed him, closed quote.
So, obviously, this sounds a little nuts, right? Why is Paul Manafort doing this now? Is this as much of a legal Hail Mary also it appears to be? If this has no chance of ever prevailing in court, then what else could he be doing this for?
Now, obviously, if he won that last point, if he won an injunction from a court that says, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, cannot investigate business dealings -- well, that would be awesome for his own case. It might conceivably also be awesome for anybody else who might be worried that their business dealings are in Robert Mueller`s crosshairs right now.
Expert advice on this subject is at hand, but honestly, if I were Paul Manafort and I was going to ask the president for a pardon in my criminal case, this might be a very nice holiday card to wrap it up in. By the way, boss, I tried to get Robert Mueller declared unable to look at anybody`s business dealings. I tried, boss.
Joining us now is Neal Katyal. He`s former U.S. acting solicitor general during the Obama administration. He`s now a constitutional law professor at Georgetown.
Mr. Katyal, thank you very much for being here.
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: Great to be back.
MADDOW: So, part of the reason I wanted to talk to you about this tonight is that the basis of this lawsuit by Paul Manafort tonight seeking to end the Robert Mueller investigation, essentially, is that -- he says the special counsel regulations are basically bad and he says that Robert Mueller was -- is acting outside the bounds of what he can legally do.
You, as far as I can tell, are the person who wrote the special counsel regulations that are the basis for this lawsuit today. How do you view this lawsuit by Paul Manafort?
KATYAL: Well, Rachel, to call their basis for this lawsuit, I think, is overly generous. I mean, as solicitor general, I saw, you know, thousands and thousands of lawsuits, I mean, criminal defendants will often complain about the prosecutor expanding their jurisdiction or something. I`ve rarely seen a lawsuit this frivolous.
I mean, this thing is, to use the legal term, silly. Basically, the argument is, well, the special counsel regulations written in 1999 only permit an original grant of jurisdiction to the prosecutor for cases in which there is no conflict of interest and I, Paul Manafort, yes, I might have been involved in dealing -- shady dealing with the Russians starting in 2005, but there isn`t a conflict of interest for the Justice Department to investigation. And so, Mueller had to go back, according to Manafort, and ask for additional authority from Rosenstein to investigate the 2005 onward Russian money laundering.
Now, there are a lot of problems with this, but the most important is that it`s just factually not true. In fact, you know, you said earlier in the show, Rosenstein has been quiet about the investigation, except just saying Mueller`s a good man. But actually in his December testimony just last month, he said something more than that.
He said, quote, to the extent there`s any ambiguity about it, Mueller has received my permission to include these matters within the investigation. And the quote`s a lot longer than that, but it`s very clear that Mueller has done exactly what the lawsuit asks him to do, which is just go to Rosenstein and ask for an expansion of authority. So, this is a bogus lawsuit.
MADDOW: This is -- is this one of those things -- again, I`m not a lawyer, I am just a dope who tries to explain these things on TV, but is this one of those things where this is a lot of political fighting, a lot of legal controversy as to whether or not something like the special counsel should exist, whether or not the regulations of the Justice Department creating this type of role is something that`s proper? Is this Manafort lawsuit tapping into some larger discussion where he might be expected to bring some partisans from that argument over to his side?
KATYAL: I don`t think so. I mean, when we crafted them in 1999, there was widespread bipartisan consensus with Republicans and Democrats alike that you can`t have the Independent Counsel Act, the thing that gave Ken Starr and Lawrence Welch their powers over Iran Contra and Monica Lewinsky and stuff. But at the same time, there needed to be something because, you know, many of us have lived through the experience of Watergate, and government cover-up, and even all of the things you were saying at the beginning of the show, concerned about Devin Nunes and kind of, you know, and Rudy Giuliani`s law partner and so on.
These are central questions in any republic, who is going to guard the guardians? And so, you can`t just, like, throw out the special counsel regulations and just pretend that the politically appointed officials can do everything. There needs to be something in place. So, no, I don`t think this is tapping into anything except, frankly, you know, Manafort`s lawyers desire to get paid a little bit more by the hour or, you know, something like that.
But, you know, at the end of this -- at the end of this lawsuit, I think there will be one big winner, and that will be Robert Mueller, because Mueller is going to get a very easy lay-up win in court.
MADDOW: Neal Katyal, former U.S. acting solicitor general, now constitutional law professor at Georgetown University -- exactly the man I wanted to talk to about this. Thank you for being here tonight, sir. Nice to see you.
KATYAL: Thank you.
MADDOW: A lot of people have called this lawsuit today frivolous. We just heard Neal Katyal call it silly. But that last point that he made there, I think, is important.
Manafort`s lawyers have brought something that nobody thinks has any real chance, I think no serious observers think has any chance of breaking in Manafort`s direction. If this does get taken up by the court and treated the way most observers expect this to be treated, this could actually end up strengthening Mueller by clarifying all the more his authority to be acting under the authority which he was appointed.
I don`t know why they did this. Much more to get to. Very busy news day. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Last night, just before we went on the air, "New York Times" published a scoop, some interesting news in the form of an op-ed, which is an unusual way to break news. But its op-ed was by the founders of the research firm called Fusion GPS. That`s the firm that hired former British spy Christopher Steele in 2016 to look into Donald Trump`s Russia connections. Steele produced the now very famous dossier of detailed allegations about the Russian government intervening in the election to help Trump win.
Fusion GPS paid Christopher Steele for that work. Fusion has since been attacked by the White House and by Republicans for their role in producing the dossier, but Fusion says they stand by their work. They say the attacks on them are an effort to divert attention from damning stuff that they were able to turn up about Trump and Russia.
Now, Fusion`s founder Glenn Simpson has testified about the dossier and about his firm`s work, he`s testified for more than 20 hours before three different congressional committees all behind closed doors. Glenn Simpson and Fusion are now calling on those committees to release the transcripts of his testimony so the American people can judge for themselves, as Republicans continue to attack that firm and the dossier.
Well, today, the chairman of the first committee where Glenn Simpson testified, the judiciary committee in the Senate, he gave his response. And it doesn`t make that much sense.
Chuck Grassley is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Back in August, he said in Iowa that he would support releasing the transcript of Glenn Simpson`s testimony. That`s what he said in August. Today, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said, no, he doesn`t support that anymore, citing, quote, investigative factors he must consider to temporarily protect certain information in the midst of an ongoing inquiry such as this one, like tainting the memory of other witnesses.
More importantly, Senator Grassley provided Fusion GPS an opportunity for transparency six months ago when he invited the firm to publicly testify at an open committee hearing. Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS declined. The committee`s invitation for Mr. Simpson to testify at a public hearing remains on the table.
So, those are the two arguments, both from Grassley in the same statement. It would taint the investigation for anybody in the public to know what you have told us. Also, you should have said it publicly. Those are two very contradictory ideas, right? You can`t say that and you should have just said that.
Well, tonight, the top Democrat on that committee, Dianne Feinstein, her office tells us for the first time that she does support releasing the ten- hour transcript of Glenn Simpson`s testimony. Amy Klobuchar is on the committee, too. Her office also tells us tonight that she too supports releasing the transcript of Glenn Simpson`s 10-hour testimony.
So, couple questions. Question one, why isn`t this transcript being released? Question two, if Senator Grassley is going to stick to his U- turn on this and Republicans really aren`t going to let this transcript out, could Fusion tell us more about their testimony on their own without the transcript being released?
In their op-ed last night, for instance, I told you they broke some news. Part of the news they broke is that Fusion allowed all readers of "The New York Times" to know that one of the things they testified to was their belief that congressional investigators should look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and other funders that supported Trump`s businesses. They also told congressional investigators that they should consider looking into red flags for money laundering at numerous Trump properties. They suggested that the congressional committees heard that testimony, but showed little interest in pursuing those matters.
Plenty of other people have interest in that stuff, though. If the Republicans won`t let this testimony out in the form of transcripts of the testimony, could we get it by some other means? Couldn`t Fusion just describe to us what they testified to? Could other members of the committee who want that information released, could they just tell us what was said?
Joining us now is Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which heard 10 hours of testimony from Glenn Simpson back in August.
When we contacted all the members of the committee back at time, Senator Blumenthal was the only Democrat at that time to publicly support releasing that Simpson transcript.
Senator, it`s really good to see you tonight. Thank you for being here.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you very much, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, as I mentioned there, you from the very beginning said the transcript should be out there. Senator Feinstein, who`s the top Democrat on your committee, as of tonight, she tells us she now supports releasing that transcript as well. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also tells us she supports releasing that transcript.
We have previously reported that Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah had said that he was in support of releasing it. Senator Chuck Grassley had told constituents on tape in Iowa that he would probably vote for releasing that transcript.
What`s going on now in terms of it not being released?
BLUMENTHAL: There is no question, Rachel, that this transcript, or the summary of the interview should be released, and so should the transcript of the interview with Donald Trump Jr. and other witnesses who have come before the committee.
What`s going on now seems to be part of an effort to distract from the underlying investigation of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign and their interference in our election and possible obstruction of justice. And it is unconscionable that we do not issue subpoenas for Donald Trump Jr. and others who have relevant knowledge about the potential collusion and obstruction of justice.
MADDOW: Senator Grassley is newly making this argument that releasing this information, releasing the transcript of these ten hours of testimony might interfere with ongoing investigations because they might interfere with other witnesses` recollection of events. That seems to be not an irrational argument why some testimony might be kept private and out of public hands while an investigation is ongoing.
I mentioned that this is a new argument for Senator Grassley. He didn`t seem to be bothered by this before. And this didn`t seem to preclude other Republican committees from releasing transcripts of testimony from Erik Prince or from Carter Page. How do you weigh that as a concern?
BLUMENTHAL: I`ve read that interview, and closely reviewed it and I`ve also, by the way, read and closely reviewed the transcript of the interview with Donald Trump Jr.
And the real unanswered questions and the ones that should be revealed in public are in Donald Trump Jr.`s testimony and there is no way that the testimony, if released from Glenn Simpson, would taint or influence or any way distract from the testimony of others before this committee. And I think the American public needs to know what all of this testimony is. They have a right to know it.
And the real distraction here, in my view, is the focus on Fusion GPS in the way that Republicans are using it, because it`s part of an effort to distract us from the real focus, collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians and their meddling, as well as obstruction of justice and possibly also legislation that must be passed to protect the special counsel. You`ve made reference already tonight to a number of very concerning developments, the appointment of a new U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York, who was personal little interviewed by the president, as well as that meeting between Paul Ryan and Christopher Wray, the head of the FBI, and Rod Rosenstein. All of it smacks of potential efforts to stop or stymie or discredit the special counsel investigation.
MADDOW: On that last point, briefly, Senator, do you know anything about this meeting between Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray and Paul Ryan? It was a surprise to observers, I don`t think anybody had advance word this was happening, I`m not sure anybody knows what it is about. We are told that the meeting was to discuss Congressman Devin Nunes, who has been the controversial chair of the Intelligence Committee, as well as being a Trump transition team member.
Do you know anything about that meeting, what was it about?
BLUMENTHAL: I know nothing about it. My hope is that it was not to hand over evidence or summaries of evidence or indications of what is going to happen in the special counsel investigation, because that would be improper.
MADDOW: Senator Blumenthal, member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, really appreciate your time tonight, sir. Thank you for being with us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
MADDOW: I don`t want to let this get lost in the sauce here, just underscoring what Senator Blumenthal just said there, having reviewed the transcripts of the Donald Trump Jr. testimony, which is behind closed doors and hasn`t been released, and the Glenn Simpson fusion GPS testimony, which is behind closed doors and hasn`t been released, Senator Blumenthal said having seen both of those transcripts, he says there`s nothing about the Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson transcript which would taint anything from any other witness and interfere with the investigation, and he is calling for that Donald Trump Jr. transcript to be released, saying that it`s important.
My interest is piqued.
All right. Stay with us. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: -- on White House letterhead every day. Quote: Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I`d already won the nomination by defeating 17 candidates. Now that he`s on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn`t as easy as I make it look.
Steve had very little to do with our historic victory. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than 30 years by Republicans. Steve doesn`t represent my base. He`s only in it for himself.
Technically, Alabama Republicans held that seat for 20ish years, not 30ish years, but -- that really was the official tenor of the White House response today to this new barn-burner of a book from Michael Wolff, in which Steve Bannon says some not very nice things about the president and his family and his first year in office.
The book is a wild read. But beyond the stuff in these pages, and in, you know, the lost his mind response to these pages, key parts of this book, I think, have been a little bit lost today, understandably, because there`s so much salacious stuff. But in terms of the substance here, we know that in June on Air Force One, heading back to Washington from Germany, the president and his staff cooked up a lie -- misleading statement -- defending a meeting that the president`s son and other members of his campaign had taken with a whole bunch of Russians in Trump touring during the campaign. In the misleading statement cooked up on air force one, they said the meeting was primarily about Russian adoptions.
We now know, of course, that that meeting was called to deliver Russian government-provided dirt on Hillary Clinton to team Trump. That`s why they took the meeting.
Well, today, we got a new account of what happened on that trip home from Germany. And we got it by way of this salacious new book.
Michael Wolff reports, quote: The president ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion about Hillary Clinton. It was a real-time example of denial and cover-up.
Wolff continues: Mark Corallo, the spokesman for the president`s lawyer, was instructed not to speak to the press, indeed not to even answer his phone. Later that week, Corallo, seeing no good outcome, and privately confiding that he believed the meeting on Air Force One represented a likely obstruction of justice, he quit.
Oh. So, that`s new. A spokesman for the president`s lawyer reportedly quit his job after privately confiding to other people that he believed what he witnessed on Air Force One that day was obstruction of justice by the president.
We know special counsel Robert Mueller has been interested in the possibility of obstruction of justice in the Trump/Russia investigation. Now, we have this very granular new reporting that a named member of the president`s legal team was so disturbed by the possibility that he had witnessed that crime that he told other people about it and then quit. So -- that`s one place to stick a bookmark in the new book.
Here`s another. This is Charles Kushner. This is Jared`s dad. The Kushners own a gigantic real estate empire and it has reportedly been under legal scrutiny in the Trump era. Well, according to this new book, as the president was deliberating within the White House on whether he was going to fire the FBI director, James Comey, one influence on that discussion was the business opinion of Jared`s dad.
Quote, Charlie Kushner`s fear, channeled through his son and daughter-in- law, was that the Kushner family`s dealings, meaning business dealings, were getting wrapped up in the pursuit of Trump. Jared and Ivanka exhibited an increasingly panicked sense that the FBI and DOJ were moving beyond Russian election interference and into family finances. Trump turned to suggesting to his billionaire chorus that he fire FBI Director Comey, his daughter and son-in-law, their urgency compounded by Charlie Kushner`s panic, encouraged him to fire Comey, arguing that the once possibly charmable Comey was now a dangerous and uncontrollable player whose profit would inevitably be their loss.
And you know what happened next. The president fired James Comey, which spurred the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller who we now know is interested in whether the president obstructed justice. And if this book is right, the special counsel may have another avenue for the investigation, into whether or not James Comey was fired to obstruct his potential interest or the FBI`s potential inquiries into Kushner family business practices.
So, you can stick a bookmark in that chapter, too. Serious claims in this book, alongside all the insult comic stuff that may open new legal questions for the president and the investigation into him.
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: Sometimes on this show, we get lucky on live TV. In October, we were puzzling over the news that the president had been personally interviewing potential candidates for federal prosecutor jobs, for U.S. attorney positions in New York. That seemed like the kind of thing presidents don`t usually do, since U.S. attorneys in the Justice Department and the attorney general are all supposed to operate independent of the White House.
Just a few days after those reports, as luck would have it, we got former Attorney General Eric Holder to be here on the show for an interview. And he fired off basically an emergency flare, a big warning about the president interviewing those potential U.S. attorneys.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: The way it was done in the Obama administration and the Clinton administration, as well, and I think in the Bush administrations, the highest level person that you spoke to as an incoming attorney general, as an incoming U.S. attorney was, in fact, the attorney general. That was it. Nobody went to talk to the White House.
MADDOW: And why is that? Why was that -- why was it structured that way?
HOLDERN: To, again, ensure that independence. U.S. attorney would understand that your boss is the attorney general of the United States. You`re not supposed to have any contacts. A U.S. attorney is not supposed to have any contacts with the White House except through the Justice Department.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: U.S. attorney not supposed to have any contacts with the White House. But today, one of the people who Donald Trump personally interviewed all but got the job. He was appointed on an interim basis and now pending Senate confirmation, a law partner of Trump friend Rudy Giuliani named Geoffrey Berman will become the U.S. attorney general for the crucial southern district of New York. You can`t say we weren`t warned.
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade. She`s a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She`s one of the U.S. attorneys fired by the president en masse back in March.
Ms. McQuade, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Nice to see you, Barb.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, we got a whole bunch of interim U.S. attorneys appointed today. Under the federal Vacancies Reform Act, as far as I understand it, you got 300 days to pick somebody new once there`s a vacancy like this. So, that meant that they could only have the acting U.S. attorneys for 300 days max. That 300-day mark is tomorrow.
What would have happened if the administration, like, really blew this, if they didn`t notice that deadline was passing or they didn`t get it together to get all these appointments made at the last minute today. Who would have been running these prosecutors offices as of tomorrow?
MCQUADE: Well, the pick then goes to the courts, the judges in the district where the U.S. attorney works get to pick. And so, they may pick someone that the Justice Department likes or they pick somebody else. And so, I think that the attorney general didn`t want to take that chance, that somebody other than their choosing would get that position. So, I think that`s why he`s been waiting for President Trump to make these nominations. It didn`t happen. And so, he, it appears, felt the need to act on his own.
MADDOW: Two of the appointments that were announced today were in the southern district and eastern district of New York, those are two jurisdictions where we know the president personally met with at least some of the people who he was considering for the U.S. attorney jobs in those jurisdictions.
Do you share Eric Holder`s concern, the kind of warning that he gave us on the air that the president meeting with candidates for those jobs is inappropriate?
MCQUADE: I do. You know, it`s highly unusual, just another example of some of the norms that we are seeing that are being eroded. It may be that these new U.S. attorneys are perfectly acceptable, but I think it creates a bad appearance that can erode the perception of independence that we want to have in U.S. attorney`s offices.
We don`t want to have a U.S. attorney who feels in any way beholden to the president, especially the one who presides in the district where the president has business assets, has homes, residences, and is subject to the jurisdiction of that office.
MADDOW: Barb, let me ask you something else that came up in the news today. I was just mentioning that some of the less salacious but to me, very salient stuff in this new book from Michael Wolff is an allegation about perceived obstruction of justice. Former spokesman for the president`s legal team, according to Michael Wolff, quit his job after he says he witnessed what he believed to be obstruction of justice by the president on Air Force One, when the president led the creation of a statement about that Trump Tower meeting involving his son and top members of his campaign during the -- during the presidential campaign.
That seems to me like a big red flag, given that there`s an ongoing investigation of the president and his campaign and we know that obstruction of justice is one of the things that Robert Mueller is reportedly looking at. As a former prosecutor, if that`s what you`re looking at, how would you -- how would you view an account like that appearing in a reported book? Is that something that you would follow?
MCQUADE: Agreed. And I think it is absolutely a big red flag. And there are other red flags about that conversation that occurred on Air Force One. I mean, this is the conversation about which Donald Trump Jr. has tried to assert attorney-client privilege, remember, because he says there was a lawyer who participated in this conversation while he father was present. I think it`s a big red flag.
You know, the opinion of the spokesman is not dispositive it is, but the fact that he quit his job over it thinking it might be obstruction of justice would cause me to want to ask him some questions. What are the facts that cause you to reach that conclusion?
MADDOW: Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney, thank you very much for being with us tonight. Barb, nice to see you. Thanks for being here.
MCQUADE: Thanks a lot, Rachel. Nice to see you too. Thanks.
MADDOW: It is a -- it is a busy day, a lot happened. Still more ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: All right. One of the most controversial things that this new administration did right out of the gate, and that is a high bar, but one of their most controversial creations was just killed tonight and it was killed by the White House. This has been a day of lots and lots of surprises. This one is our final story tonight, that`s next.
MADDOW: So, the commission was formed in May. Then it met just twice. It demanded reams of sensitive information from the states about voters.
The information they were demanding was sensitive enough that a bunch of the states refused to hand the information over. Then they got hit with a barrage of lawsuits, including one filed in November by one of its own members who said, quote, apparently, this is the only way I can find out what we are doing.
Well, then tonight, the president announced he was killing it, dissolving the group. It is the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. "ProPublica" reports that members of the commission didn`t know they were being cut loose and all fired until the White House public statement went out announcing the dissolving of their group.
The commissioners were simply e-mailed the White House statement with a short and important addendum. Quote: Today, the president dissolved the commission by executive order. Due to pending litigation, you should continue to preserve records, related to the commission. Thank you for your service.
Thank you for your service. Now, get out. But preserve your records because we`re all being sued.
It`s basically been a fun year. That`s as good of microcosm as I`ve seen anywhere.
That does 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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