Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 4, 2018 Guest: Jenny Durkan
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Joy. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
You know, I had a whole different show planned for tonight. I had -- you know, A, B, C, D, E, six blocks planned for a show tonight that`s not going to happen because, if it`s a day that ends in Y, that apparently still means that`s a day when all my best laid plans fly out the window in the last few moments before I get on the air because of breaking news.
Tonight, within the last hour, there`s breaking news from "The New York Times", that FBI Director James Comey`s bombshell claims about President Trump have been substantiated by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Now, if this reporting from "The New York Times" tonight bears out, this is a big deal.
These claims from James Comey, these are the claims that led to the special counsel being appointed in the first place. These are the claims that are at the heart of the president`s personal legal liability for potentially criminal obstruction of justice. These are the claims that have led the president and the White House and the president`s Republican supporters in Congress to all start trashing the FBI as an organization and to start personally going after individual high-ranking officials in the FBI basically trying to pick them off one by one in terms of their credibility and their potential role as corroborating witnesses.
But in this new reporting that`s just been posted by "The New York Times," reporter Michael Schmidt says, Robert Mueller has now obtained independent corroboration of these crucial claims from James Comey about President Trump. Now, you remember what we`re talking about here in terms of the timeline, right? We know that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia in the summer of 2016. So, in the summer of the presidential campaign.
James Comey was the director of the FBI. He stayed on as the director of the FBI when Trump became president. Then Trump became president and in May of 2017, Trump fired James Comey.
Now, initially, the White House offered a sort of shaky explanation that Comey had to be fired because of something about how he had handled the Clinton e-mail investigation months earlier. That did not last. The president soon spilled the beans and told NBC`s Lester Holt that, in fact, the Russia investigation had been on his mind when he decided that he had to fire James Comey.
He then also told two officials from the Russian government in the Oval Office that firing James Comey as head of the FBI would relieve pressure on him on the issue of Russia. So, that all happened in very quick succession in May. James Comey being fired and the White House`s explanation that it had nothing to do with Russia completely unraveling within 48 hours. That was in May.
Then in June, James Comey testified before Congress and he -- it was riveting and it was very important testimony, right? Comey testified that before he was fired by President Trump, President Trump had pressured him multiple times to drop the FBI Russia investigation, to let go of the FBI investigation into Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn. James Comey testified that Trump had pressured him to make public statements exonerating the president in the Russia investigation. And when James Comey didn`t do any of those things, didn`t succumb to any of that pressure on the Russian investigation, the president fired him. That was Comey`s crucial testimony in June.
Even more crucially, Comey testified at the time that when the president pressured him to do all those things, he says he recognized those as extraordinary moments between him and the president -- extraordinary things for the president to be doing. And so, he memorialized them contemporaneously. He took notes about his conversations with the president. He shared then information about his conversations with the president with other senior leaders at the FBI and he did it on purpose so there would be a contemporaneous record of what the president had done.
Now, the White House has since denied that the president ever pressured James Comey to drop the Russia investigation before they fired him. But this one crucial question about whether the president fired Comey in an effort to obstruct justice, in an effort to block the Russia investigation at the FBI, that crucial question in terms -- including the president`s personal criminal liability, it may hinge in large part on whether or not what Comey says happened can be proven.
Well, now tonight, Michael Schmidt reports at "The New York Times" that special counsel Robert Mueller has the evidence to do so.
Quote, Mr. Mueller has substantiated claims that Mr. Comey made in a series of memos describing troubling interactions with the president before he was fired in May. The special counsel has received handwritten notes from Mr. Trump`s former chief of staff Reince Priebus showing that Mr. Trump talked to Mr. Priebus about how he had called Mr. Comey to urge him to say he was not under investigation.
Handwritten notes. Handwritten notes. You might remember this. Back in September, there was a report at "Axios" about potential liability that might attend to some copious handwritten notes from Trump`s top staffers in the White House. Do you remember that? From Axios back in September?
There was -- they sent up a warning sign in September that handwritten notes taken in the Oval Office, taken during the campaign, during the transition, during the early days of the Trump administration might end up being trouble now that there was a special counsel investigation into a lot of things that happened at that time including the firing of James Comey.
The funny thing is, the warning flag went up in September, not about Reince Priebus. We thought it would be about Sean Spicer. Do you remember this?
Former colleagues of Sean Spicer tell "Axios" that he filled notebook after notebook during meetings at the Republican National Committee, and later at the Trump campaign and then at the White House, when Spicer worked at the RNC, he was said to have filled black books emblazoned with the party`s seal. He was so well-known for his copious notes that underlings joked about him writing a tell-all.
One source familiar with the matter said that the records were just to help him do his job. Sean documented everything the source said. This surprised some officials of previous White Houses who said that because of past investigations, they intentionally took as few notes as possible when they worked in the West Wing. That was reported in September, that Sean Spicer`s copious notes would be a honey pot for Robert Mueller and his investigation.
Maybe Sean Spicer`s notes will eventually prove to be that. But from this crucial period around the firing of James Comey, tonight, again, "The New York Times" is reporting it`s the handwritten notes from former chief of staff Reince Priebus, those notes now in the hands of Robert Mueller, notes that reportedly substantiate the bombshell claims made by FBI Director James Comey that the president personally pressured him on the Russia investigation before he fired him.
And there is more. Also from this reporting tonight in the "New York Times", quote: President Trump gave firm instructions in March to the White House`s top lawyer to stop the Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the Justice Department`s investigation into whether Trump`s associates helped a in the Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election.
Mr. Trump, sorry, Mr. Trump apparently instructed White House counsel Don McGahn that he should -- that he should go pressure Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. McGahn`s argument to Sessions was that he did not need to step aside from the inquiry until it was further along and that recusing himself would not stop Democrats from saying he had lied.
According to "The New York Times" tonight, after Jeff Sessions said career Justice Department officials said he should step aside, McGahn said he understood and backed down.
But again, newly reported by "The New York Times" tonight that the president personally directed the White House counsel to go lobby the attorney general -- don`t recuse yourself on the Russia investigation. We don`t know either how strange that is as behavior by the president or whether that`s potentially a problem for the president if he is being investigated for obstruction of justice.
So that`s one further point tonight from "The New York Times." The president reportedly instructing his White House counsel to go stop the recusal of the attorney general. We know that wasn`t effective. Don McGahn wasn`t able to persuade Jeff Sessions to not recuse himself, but reportedly he tried.
Also, "The New York Times" further reports tonight that his -- the president`s intention to fire James Comey was so unnerving to some members of the White House staff, to some people inside the White House counsel`s office, that his intention to fire Comey according to the "New York Times" led one of Mr. McGahn`s deputies to mislead the president about his authority to fire the FBI director. This is quite remarkable.
The lawyer, somebody named Uttam Dhillon. I don`t know exactly how you pronounce it. The first name U-T-T-I-M, last name, D-H-I-L-L-O-N. According to "The New York Times" tonight, that lawyer, Uttam Dhillon, a deputy to Don McGahn in the White House counsel`s office was convinced if James Comey was fired, the Trump presidency could be imperiled because it would force the Justice Department to open an investigation into whether Trump was trying to derail the Russia investigation.
Longstanding analysis of presidential power says the president does not need grounds to fire the FBI director. Mr. Dhillon is a veterans Justice Department lawyer and had been so before joining the Trump White House. He reportedly assigned a junior lawyer to examine this issue. That lawyer determined that the FBI director was no different than any other employ ne the executive branch and there was nothing prohibiting the president from firing him.
But Mr. Dhillon who had earlier told Mr. Trump that he needed cause to fire Mr. Comey never corrected the record, withholding the conclusions of his research. Again, so, just remarkable in this reporting from Michael Schmidt tonight.
He`s saying that there is somebody who worked and potentially still works in the White House counsel`s office who intentionally lied to the president about whether or not he had it within his power to fire James Comey, leaving intentionally an incorrect impression with the president that he couldn`t fire James Comey because he was so afraid that if he fired Comey, the Trump presidency would be, quote, imperiled. The president`s own lawyers feeling like they need to lie to him.
There`s a lot tonight. It`s just breaking from Michael Schmidt, a "New York Times" reporter who just broke the story, who joins us now.
Mr. Schmidt, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate you being here.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: As you can tell, I`m sort of just getting through this now, trying to understand a lot of the importance of what you have just reported. I`m struck, most of all, by this report that the special counsel has substantiated claims made by James Comey about his troubling interactions with the president.
Can you explain how the special counsel`s office was able to do that and how important this is?
SCHMIDT: Yes, on April 11th, Comey testified -- when he testified before Congress, he said on April 11th, Trump called him and said, you got to help me get out the word from the Justice Department that I`m not under investigation. How are we going to get that out? Have you talked to the Justice department about it?
And when the White House handed over notes and documents that they had to the special counsel`s office, they handed over stuff from Reince Priebus. And there was handwritten notes from a conversation that Reince Priebus had had with the president on April 11th, in which the president discussed with him the conversation that he had had with Comey and how Trump said that Comey said that the White House need to reach out the Dana Boente, the acting attorney general.
These things substantiated what Comey was saying in his memos. They showed what Comey is saying in his memos led Trump to have a conversation with Reince Priebus about it. So, that is what the evidence that Mueller has that shows that these events that Comey has described indeed occurred.
And as we know, the White House has said that Comey`s a liar and that he made these things up. So, in terms of substantiating, understanding whether what Comey said is true, this gets Mueller closer to that. Now, does that get you closer to an obstruction case? That`s a much more complex legal question, but in terms of the facts, this bolsters Comey`s claims.
MADDOW: Michael, let me be specific with you about that. In terms of what Reince Priebus` handwritten notes corroborate in terms of Comey`s testimony, they corroborate that the president -- the president told James Comey that he should make public statements exonerating the president in the Russia probe. Is there any other specific thing that Priebus` notes attested to?
SCHMIDT: Well, this was -- so, what Trump was trying to do is get his name cleared publicly. Comey, when going before Congress, would not say that Trump was not under investigation. He wouldn`t answer the question. But privately, Comey had told Trump he wasn`t under investigation. So, Trump was trying to figure out a way to get this out. And Comey wasn`t going to say it.
So, he said to the president, he said, you really need to go through the Justice Department. So, what Trump does is he turns and tells Priebus about this. Priebus takes down notes from the conversation and I think Priebus was supposed to follow up with Don McGahn about it. I don`t know if that ever happened. But what does this shows is that this conversation which Comey described in his memos on the other side of it in the White House, Trump is having a conversation about it with Priebus that shows the same thing that Comey was saying in his memos.
MADDOW: Now, in terms of these notes from Reince Priebus, I mentioned it had been previously reported by "Axios" back in September that Sean Spicer was known for taking copious handwritten notes in all of his jobs, when he was at the RNC, when he was in the Trump transition, when he was in the Trump White House. That was raising eyebrows among people who had previously worked in other White Houses, saying that could be a dangerous thing if you guys end up under investigation.
Was it known before your reporting tonight, that Priebus` handwritten notes in fact existed, that that was something that he kept in an ongoing way during his tenure as White House chief of staff and did we know before tonight all of his notes had been handed over to the special counsel?
SCHMIDT: This is certainly something I didn`t know anything about and I hadn`t read anything about. But, look, the White House has produced an enormous amount of documents to the special counsel`s office, whether that`s e-mails, whether that`s memos or handwritten stuff. I don`t know if they handed over every single thing that Reince Priebus wrote down.
But what we do know is that the White House has not exerted executive or attorney/client privilege on any of documents they have given to the special counsel. The strategy from the Trump`s lawyers has been, let`s give them everything that we have, that`s the quickest way to clear our name.
Now, there is a real debate among lawyers whether this is a smart move. One of the blowbacks of it is that it allows for embarrassing things to end up in Mueller`s hands. Maybe it may not show illegality, but it shows things that were going on in the White House that may not reflect well on the president.
MADDOW: Michael, you also report that the president personally directed his counsel, his White House counsel Don McGahn to go to the Justice Department, to try to talk Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of recusing himself. I don`t know enough about how these things work in terms of how recusals are decided and what the relationship is supposed to be like between the office of the legal -- between the White House counsel and the office of the attorney general.
How unusual is that sort of entreaty from the White House counsel?
SCHMIDT: I think that the Trump presidency is testing some things that we never thought would be tested before about sort of what are the rules of the road that govern, you know, recusals and can the White House lobby an attorney general not to recuse himself? My guess is that in the balance of the Justice Department, there are guidelines that apply to these things, but these are things that don`t come up very often and very unusual.
We`re looking at a question of Trump asking Comey on February 14th to end an investigation. Is that legal? Is that illegal?
You know, these are things that the Trump presidency has resurrected as questions in Washington that are things that we have to do a lot of thinking and research and reporting about because they`re not things that we`ve seen previously, at least not in recent times.
MADDOW: And to that point, you further report tonight that a deputy operating in the White House counsel`s office, Mr. Dhillon, essentially the way you describe it, deliberately misled the president, allowed the president to continue to believe at least for a time mistakenly that it might not be within his power to fire the FBI director. That`s a remarkable anecdote, a remarkable story.
Is Mr. Dhillon still working in the White House counsel`s office?
SCHMIDT: He still works in the White House counsel`s office. He believed that if the president fired Comey, he would imperial his presidency and he would cast a massive shadow over it because the Justice Department would have to look whether this is obstruction of justice.
You know, it wouldn`t turn out to be right. But in the process, what he did was he initially told Trump, you need a reason to fire the FBI director. You need cause to do that. But what happened is when he turned around and asked the White House counsel`s office to do research on it, they came back and said, well, you don`t need a reason.
But Dhillon didn`t do anything about it. He didn`t go back and tell the president. He had subsequent meetings with him. He didn`t -- you know, he never came back and corrected the record with him, leaving the false impression with the president that he needed a record. Eventually, the president was able to figure out he would do it without cause and, you know, you get to the firing of Comey.
But this is a way that, you know, Dhillon believed that he could delay the president until the president found something else to fixate his attention on.
MADDOW: And the president has to think about that when he engages in his White House counsel`s office now as one of the factors at work. Just remarkable reporting.
Michael Schmidt, reporter for "The New York Times," I know you are in incredible demand tonight because of this piece. Thank you very much for spending time with us. I appreciate it.
SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. On that last point, if there is a lawyer who was working in the White House counsel`s office right now who now is reported to have deliberately misled the president in order to hopefully maneuver him out of doing something he legally could do because that lawyer thought it would imperil the presidency for the president to take that action, how does that stand?
And if you`re a lawyer, are you allowed to do that? Are you allowed to deliberately mislead your client and are you more or less allowed to do it if your client is the president of the United States and you work in the White House counsel`s office?
Hold that thought. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Continuing to report on this breaking news tonight from "The New York Times." You know, we first learned about the Comey memos back in May. Michael Schmidt at "The New York Times" is the one who broke the bombshell story that FBI Director James Comey had written detailed memos in which he had documented how the president had pressured him to end the Russia investigation, which he refused to do and that all preceded him being fired.
Well, tonight, we got the very important follow-up on that story also from Michael Schmidt. Our previous guest, the same reporter, has now added to his previous reporting. He says, as of tonight, special counsel Robert Mueller has independently substantiated the claims that James Comey made in those memos describing the pressure he faced from the president on the Russia investigation before he was fired in May.
Joining us now is Chuck Rosenberg. He`s a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. He`s also worked side by side with James Comey serving as his chief of staff at the FBI.
Mr. Rosenberg, it`s a real pleasure to have you with us tonight. I know you joined us on short notice. Thank you for being here.
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO JAMES COMEY: My pleasure, Rachel. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, first, let me get your top line reaction to the news story from "The New York Times." the headline they have put on it is obstruction inquiry shows Trump`s struggle to keep grip on Russia investigation. From the details of this story, do you feel this advances our understanding of the status of the investigation involving the president and his potential liability?
ROSENBERG: It advances both of those things. We know more about it and the stuff we know now that we didn`t know before I think corroborates, although not conclusively, but corroborates the notion there was a plot, an attempt to obstruct the Russia investigation.
MADDOW: When Mr. Comey explained first to reporters that should be said and then soon thereafter under oath to a congressional hearing that he took those detailed notes, he wrote them up as memos and he shared the information about the president`s behavior contemporaneously with other FBI officials, can you explain from a legal standpoint, from an FBI standpoint, why he did that? Why he would have done that and how that might have helped any legal proceedings going forward?
ROSENBERG: Sure. Both of those things make a lot of sense to me. Here`s why, Rachel. And I`ve done it, too.
You come out of a meeting, you have a phone call. Somebody mentions something to you. And it strikes you at that time as important although you don`t know all the dimensions of its importance. It`s just something you got to remember.
And so, you commit it to writing. You put it down in an e-mail or a memo to file and you hold on to it because you just don`t know where and when this thing is going to become important again. I can tell you, government officials and I assume people in the private sector do this all the time.
I mean, journalists make notes of conversations for the exact same reason. I think the second part of your question is a little trickier. How does it matter in a criminal case?
So, something I write, if I am available to testify as a live witness at trial, the thing I wrote isn`t evidence. The thing that I say in court is the evidence. So, if Jim Comey, for instance, is available to testify at a trial, then it`s the words that come out of his mouth as a witness at the hearing or at the trial that matter. And the thing he wrote isn`t in and of itself evidence. It doesn`t get marked as an exhibit and it doesn`t get entered into evidence at trial. I hope that makes sense.
MADDOW: Absolutely. What about another person`s notes, another aspect of corroboration, in this case, what "The Times" is saying that the White House chief of staff took handwritten notes based on a conversation with the president in the White House in which the president described doing, described saying what Comey described him saying from the other side of that conversation?
ROSENBERG: So, here`s how -- so, let`s talk about Mr. Priebus` notes. And here`s how those might matter. He would be called to testify probably first in the grand jury and maybe later at a trial if one is held. And he would be asked all of the questions that the prosecutors want to ask him but they already know in large part what he`s going to say because, A, he has a set of notes, and, B, he`s testified as to the accuracy of those notes before the grand jury.
So, once again, his notes in and of themselves don`t get marked as an exhibit and aren`t admitted into evidence at trial but all the stuff in the notes, this is stuff he`s going to say. And, by the way, if he forgets something, you know, an innocent failure of recollection during trial, then a prosecutor can use those notes to refresh his recollection.
So, they tell the Mueller team, they tell the investigators they have the right guy. He knows what he`s talking about. He made contemporaneous notes, he`s believable. We can corroborate him. But the notes themselves are not an exhibit at trial.
MADDOW: Chuck, there is one other aspect of this that I`d like to ask you, but I`m going to have to ask you to hold with us for us a second while we take a quick break. But there is this also remarkable news that the president directed his White House counsel to lobby Jeff Sessions to not recuse himself on this matter. I`d like to ask you about that when we come back, if you can stick with us.
MADDOW: Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney, also former senior FBI official, he`ll be back with us in just a moment.
MADDOW: -- Rosenberg. He`s former U.S. attorney. He`s also worked side by side with former FBI director James Comey. He was the chief of staff at the FBI.
Chuck, thank you for sticking with us. I really appreciate it tonight.
ROSENBERG: You bet.
MADDOW: So, the opening anecdote, the opening, what is it, recounting the opening in this bombshell "New York Times" reporting tonight is this -- I`ll just read you exactly the way Michael Schmidt reported it.
President Trump gave firm instructions in March to the White House`s top lawyer: stop the Attorney General Jeff Session from recruiting himself in the Justice Department`s investigation into whether Trump associates had helped the Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election.
White House counsel Don McGahn carried out the president`s orders and lobbied Mr. Sessions to remain in charge of the inquiry. Mr. McGahn was unsuccessful and the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he didn`t his attorney general to protect him.
I don`t know how it works within the Department of Justice, within any prosecutorial context in terms of whether or not somebody like an attorney general should be recused on a matter like this.
MADDOW: Is it improper for the president to effectively lobby against his attorney general`s recusal this way?
ROSENBERG: Well, the president can express a desire that the attorney general stay in a case, but you shouldn`t be surprised by what I`m about to say, Rachel. The Department of Justice is full of lawyers. There is a bunch of rules written down about when you must recuse yourself and should recuse yourself.
So, the must category is really easy. Let`s say you would have a financial stake in the outcome of the case. You must recuse yourself. Or it involves a family member, you must recuse yourself.
But there is also a whole bunch of instances where you should recuse yourself. Where, for instance, your participation in a case would give rise to an appearance of a conflict of interest because for the justice system, appearances count for a lot.
And so, in my view, this is really a pretty simple call. The attorney general had at the very least an appearance of a conflict. In fact, he may actually be a witness in this case. At least, there is the potential for that. He had to recuse himself and there is nothing the president or anyone else should have done or could have done really to stop that from happening.
MADDOW: And the president getting involved in this way personally directing somebody to go intervene in the process to stop the recusal, could that be construed as a form of obstruction or interference with the working -- with the proper workings of the Justice department around an issue like this?
ROSENBERG: Yes, the answer to that is maybe. And here is why I`m going to be a little weasely on my answer to you, Rachel. The context really matters.
So, if the president said, for instance, hey, find out if he really needs to do this because if he doesn`t really need to do this, I would prefer that he not. That`s not obstruction of justice. But if on the other hand, the president says, hey, I want you to move heaven and earth to make sure this guy doesn`t get out because I need him to protect me, he`s not being loyal -- well, that`s a little bit closer to the flame. And so, context really matters.
MADDOW: Well, the context in "The New York times" reporting tonight is Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official, the attorney general, to safeguard him.
Last question for you, Chuck. It`s another point raised in the reporting tonight is that a deputy working in the White House counsel`s office reportedly intentionally misled the president about whether or not he had the legal authority to fire the FBI director, believing it would be a bad move politically for the president to do so.
And according to Michael Schmidt, this lawyer in the White House counsel`s office -- let the president persist in a temporarily wrong impression that he couldn`t fire James Comey because he hoped the president wouldn`t figure out the legal truth about that.
Are lawyers allowed to do that with their clients?
ROSENBERG: They`re not, Rachel. Lawyers have an absolute duty of candor with their clients.
Now, a highly technical point, although I don`t think it changes the answer one bit, if you work in White House counsel`s office, your client is not the president of the United States. Your client is the office of the president, the institution. The president, of course, represents that office. And so, you have a duty of candor to the institution and, of course, then to the man who represents the institution.
So, again, sorry to be a lawyer on you. This is what happens when you invite us on your show. But there`s a duty of candor, and I don`t think there`s a way around that.
MADDOW: Even when your -- even when your client is the presidency.
ROSENBERG: That`s right.
MADDOW: Chuck Rosenberg, I asked you here because you are not just a lawyer but because of your history in working in the upper echelons of the Justice Department and the FBI and also because you`re so clear spoken with us about these matters -- thank you for being here tonight.
ROSENBERG: My pleasure, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Chuck Rosenberg, again, former U.S. attorney, former head of the DEA, former chief of staff in the FBI, remarkable new reporting tonight from "The New York Times."
All right. Much more to get to, believe it or not, stay with us.
MADDOW: The Trump White House has developed this pattern that we have come to recognize easily at this point. In fact, it`s kind of fun to watch for whenever somebody gets in trouble.
Whenever one of their former administration or campaign officials gets in really, really hot water, suddenly, they have never heard of that guy.
National security adviser Mike Flynn, a campaign volunteer. Campaign chairman Paul Manafort, I think he worked on the campaign for a short period of time. Foreign policy adviser Carter Page, that dude, nobody has ever met him.
Well, today, it was White House chief strategist Steve Bannon`s turn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: How close were they when they were in the White House? One of the claims in the book is you frequently dined with Mr. Bannon unless he was already invited.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The book also says that he had been sidelined by April, which I think goes further to indicate that he had very little credibility to give much information particularly after that point, which most of the book is based after that timeframe. Again, this book is mistake after mistake after mistake.
REPORTER: Were they not close by the time that he left?
SANDERS: I`m not aware they were ever particularly close.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Close? Steve Bannon? Who? Steve Bannon, Steve Nebben? The guy who ran the president`s campaign and then was given a job in the White House equal to the chief of staff?
Why would you even think they were close? They definitely didn`t dine together, they definitely didn`t speak. If they were in the room together right now, are you sure the president would recognize him?
Everybody says loyalty has always been super important to Donald Trump. Don`t let anybody tell you different.
But the White House isn`t the only place where Steve Bannon is being disavowed today. The billionaire benefactors who have made Steve Bannon a rich man, who have underwritten his website at Breitbart.com to a multimillion dollar tune, who had paid his salary and funded his advocacy group, which provided the other half of his income before he came on to the Trump campaign.
Those billionaire benefactors are apparently cutting him off in the wake of this new book by Michael Wolff which continues to generate lots of gossip and buzz. But beyond the astonishing purported dialogue among administration figures in which they insult one another and insult the president, beyond all of that stuff that has driven so much chatter about this book, I think there are sort of two next-step questions about what`s going to happen with this new book.
The first is whether or not beyond the gossip and buzz and reported insults and swearing and fighting that this has all started, beyond that, are there important new allegations in this book that should be pursued as matters for further reporting about the fate of the administration? Now, as we talked about last night, there are two important references that I can see in the book for the potential obstruction of justice by the president or members of his family. One of them has to do with that July meeting on Air Force One when it was flying back to D.C. from Germany. The president and his staff on that flight cooked up a misleading statement defending a meeting that the president`s son and members of his campaign had taken with a whole bunch of Russians in Trump Tower.
We know that meeting was called to deliver Russian government provided dirt on Hillary Clinton but Michael Wolff reports in "Fire and Fury" that on that Air Force One ride, the president ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion at that meeting about Hillary Clinton. That flight and that effort by the president to craft that statement is described by Wolff as a real-time example of denial and cover-up. He then continues.
Mark Corallo, the spokesman for the president`s lawyer was instructed not to speak to the press, indeed not even answer his own phone later that week, seeing no good outcome and privately confiding that he believed the meeting on Air Force One represented a likely obstruction of justice, Mark Corallo quit.
So, according to Michael Wolff in this book, not only did the spokesman for the president`s legal team quit his job in part because he worried about what happened on Air Force One that they might have constituted obstruction of justice, that spokesman also told other people at the time that that was why he was quitting. Now, that`s important in terms of the reporting here in substantiating these lurid allegations because that`s something that can be followed up, right? You can question Mr. Corallo. You can speak to people he might have talked to at the time about his belief that what he was seeing was obstruction of justice in real time by the president and his advisers.
Then, there is Jared Kushner`s father reportedly involved in the pressure on the president to fire FBI Director James Comey reportedly because of an interest in protecting the Kushner family business from scrutiny by the FBI. That again suggests potential obstruction of justice, not by the president but by the president`s son-in-law and potentially the Kushner family more broadly. Let`s get the FBI director fired in order to protect us from FBI scrutiny.
If that happened, that`s a potentially very big deal. So, that`s another thread that needs pulling and presumably could be reported out.
In addition to that, now Michael Wolff in promoting his book has published a new piece in the "Hollywood Reporter" where he makes two new claims that are also salacious but could be potentially important jumping off points for further reporting.
One is this about Keith Schiller who was very close to the president. He left the White House this fall after serving Trump for nearly 20 years. According to Michael Wolff, quote, Trump`s loyal longtime bodyguard, Keith Schiller, for reasons darkly whispered about in the West Wing, was out. So, describing Keith Schiller leaving the White House, he says that the reason Schiller left were darkly whispered about in the West Wing.
That seems worth following up. Keith Schiller is often described as closer and more loyal to Trump than anyone. It seems like it should be reportable what is being so darkly whispered about his exit since we had no other extensive explanation for why Mr. Schiller left.
The other claim in this piece today from Michael Wolff again promoting this new book has to do with worries about the president`s cognitive state, which is something that`s very awkward to talk about but does have constitutional implications potentially. Michael Wolff ends his new article today with this, quote, at Mar-a-Lago just before the New Year, a heavily made-up -- meaning wearing a lot of makeup -- a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.
And yes, that`s just as buzzy and salacious as the rest of the book. But if the president isn`t recognizing people he`s known for years, that could speak importantly to his cognitive ability right now as he`s serving as president. It`s salacious. It`s buzzy. It`s got a lot of people talking about the president in terms of I think none of us ever want any American president to be talked about.
But these things have the element of also being potentially really consequential and they have the advantage of being reportable out, being reportable, right? If the president encountered multiple people in the new year`s eve celebrations at Mar-a-Lago and couldn`t recognize his old friends, that implies there were people around who may have witnessed that or may have been those old friends who experienced it who can corroborate that reporting, and it should be corroborated if it can be.
And we`re trying. We spent the last 24 hours since we got our hands on this book trying to report stuff out.
So, that`s one of the next big things that will happen. What can it lead to in terms of further verifiable reporting other than just gossip?
The other big question in terms of what happens next here is the remarkable announcement by one of the president`s lawyers today that they`re going to try to stop publication of this book. They`re going to try to stop the book from being published.
The fact I have this book in my hand shows you the likelihood that that will succeed. Here it is.
But we are now faced with the prospect that the sitting president of the United States may be filing a lawsuit against his former campaign chair and top strategist.
We`re four days into the New Year. Buckle up. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: (AUDIO GAP) today. After decades of the war on drugs, almost a million marijuana-related arrests every year, possession is now legal in Washington state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In the 2012 election, voters in Washington and Colorado decided that their states should legalize recreational marijuana. Nineteen states had already declared pot legal for medicinal purposes, but in November 2012, Washington and Colorado expanded the map and became the first in the country to legalize pot for fun. No prescription required.
Just a few months later, the Obama Justice Department issued a memo instructing U.S. attorneys to essentially pull back from prosecuting pot users or pot growers who were clearly in compliance with the laws in their home states. That became the new policy for federal prosecutors for the Justice Department.
Basically, let the states experiment with marijuana laws. Marijuana was still illegal under federal statute, but federal prosecutors wouldn`t chase down cases in states that had some form of lawful pot.
Then in 2016, another three states voted to legalize medical marijuana and four more states approved recreational use. Legalization undeniably popular and undeniably the trend.
Even the Republican nominee for president sounded like he would be just fine keeping the Obama administration`s hands off policy on pot and letting states decide how to go with it. He got asked about it by a Colorado reporter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: So, you think Colorado should be able to do what it`s doing?
DONALD TRUMP (R), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it`s up to the states, yeah. I`m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I`m a states person. It should be up to the states. Absolutely.
That was the position of presidential candidate Donald Trump. Today, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, rescinded the Obama era guidance about pot, giving states leeway to produce it -- sorry, to prosecute it in their own way.
The attorney general`s instructions pave the way for more federal pot prosecution in states where it has been declared legal.
What does this mean for the 29 states where marijuana is legal under local law for either recreational or medical purposes? What happens to the people in those states who, under state law, legally sell it or legally use it? Do states have the means to protect their own it is accepts from prosecution now that the attorney general has made this decision at the federal level?
Joining us is Jenny Durkan. She`s the mayor of Seattle, Washington, and she`s a former U.S. attorney who helped craft the Obama era policy on marijuana in the states.
Mayor Durkan, really appreciate you being here tonight. Thank you for your time.
MAYOR JENNY DURKAN, HELPED CRAFT OBAMA DOJ POLICY ON LEGAL MARIJUANA: Thank you, Rachel. It`s great to be here. Although I`m with you, I can`t believe it`s only four days into the New Year.
MADDOW: Yes. It sort of feels like a number of years under the belt in 2018 already.
Let me ask you about your role in crafting the Obama era guidelines in the first place. What was the thinking within the Obama era in the Justice Department about how to manage the fact that marijuana`s still illegal under federal law but states had taken steps to legalize it?
DURKAN: You know, we had to weigh a number of factors, and I think looking at what the Department of Justice`s role is in a federal or states is one we had to ensure public safety. But you also have to balance it against the states rights and the 10th Amendment, and look at the federal interests.
And so, looking if you look at the Cole Memorandum, we are really careful to say, what are those things that the federal government really cares about? And how do we let states within the chalk lines continue to do what they`re going to do?
And I think we reached the right balance. It is shown that it`s done away with a lot of the black market. It has helped many, many patients who are facing just debilitating illnesses, and it`s been embraced by a majority of the states.
MADDOW: What do you think will happen with Attorney General Jeff Sessions changing this federal guidance now? What do you think the impact of it will be?
DURKAN: You know, I think it`s going to be a series of battles, unfortunately, again. I think it`s very telling that they did not try to get a court to issue an injunction or to say that states were preempted because I think they would lose that legal battle.
And I also know from being U.S. attorney, you don`t have the resources to put legal marijuana out of business, and nor should you try. I mean, if you look across this country, every day, people are dying because of the opioid crisis. That`s where the federal interest should be, that`s where Jeff Sessions needs to be focusing his interests.
And I think that mayors and governors know that because we see it on the streets of every city in America.
MADDOW: Mayor, you said today that the police department in your city in Seattle will not participate in any enforcement action related to legal businesses or small personal possession of marijuana by adults. Do you see yourself as essentially picking a fight with the Justice Department? Picking a fight with the federal government on that? Do you expect backlash from that decision today?
DURKAN: You know, I would normally say no but with this Department of Justice and this president, I think we have to assume there will be a backlash. We have staked out the position on immigration to make sure that we`re true sanctuary city and they have already told us they will deny the funding. We will have to fight that.
But we will protect our legal businesses. But we can also protect public safety at the same time. We can focus on those large criminal organizations, on violence, on kids and have an approach that`s really holistic and has a public health harm reduction model for this war on drugs. So, I hope we don`t have the backlash, but you know, I`ll tell you, we`re ready for it.
MADDOW: Jenny Durkan, mayor of Seattle, former U.S. attorney, really appreciate your time tonight. Thanks for being with us.
DURKAN: Thanks so much, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Stay with us. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Just got a few seconds left. I`ll take a point of personal privilege for a second. Nine states had to activate their National Guard today because of the huge winter storm that hit such a vast swath of the country today. This is a dangerous storm, for real.
So, if you are somebody who works outside or who had to be out in the elements today in this heavy weather, if you`re a firefighter or a cop or utility worker or a letter carrier or a plow truck driver or you`re just somebody that drives for a living and had to work today, God bless you. This was a serious thing.
But here`s the corollary for the rest of us. If you live somewhere in the middle of the storm, and you didn`t have to be out in it and you had the nerve to order pizza delivery tonight, I hereby declare in effect the terrible weather relative good fortune tipping rule of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. Fifty percent minimum tips tonight for anybody pizza deliveries or any kind of delivery to you, OK?
Fifty percent minimum. You have to factor that in to your dining plans. Deal? I say this as a former bike messenger. Deal?
All right. That does it for us tonight. Stay safe. 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. END
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