Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 23, 2018 Guest: Carol Leonnig, Chuck Schumer
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is "ALL IN" for this evening. Don`t forget to like us on Facebook, Facebook.com/AllInWithChris.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: Much appreciate it.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
We are going to be joined live this hour by Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate. We are about to get his first interview since the government shutdown.
Senator Schumer had protesters outside his house tonight in Brooklyn. There is a very robust and angry debate going on about why that shutdown happened anyway, why Schumer and the Democrats voted to end it after three days on the terms on which they voted to end it. Senator Schumer will be here live in just a few minutes -- again his first interview since that shutdown.
All right. It has been a very busy news day I want to start in June of last year, June 8th. That`s the day the recently fired FBI Director James Comey gave a full day of congressional testimony. That was -- that was before Republicans running the various congressional investigations into the Russia scandal realized that open hearings were a bad idea, right, that having these important witnesses give incredibly and dramatic compelling testimony under oath on the Russia scandal on TV all day long. This is before they realize that would feel way too much like the Watergate hearings and they shouldn`t let that go on any longer. So, as they`ve been doing almost all of their hearings behind closed doors ever since then.
But on that day in June that James Comey testified in Congress about his tenure as FBI director, about what he knew about the Russia investigation and about his firing by President Trump, James Comey said something in that testimony that was very memorable and very mysterious about the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Remember the major point of James Comey`s testimony that day was that the president had repeatedly pressured him as head of the FBI that he should drop the Russia investigation, that he should lift the cloud that was looming over the Trump presidency because of these ongoing criminal and counterintelligence Russia investigations.
Comey says the president specifically asked him to direct the FBI, to let go of the investigation into Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn. So, James Comey testified about those interactions with the president. He testified that he made notes, detailed notes describing the president`s directives to him after he had those communications with the president, and he explained under oath that he shared those notes, those descriptions of what the president had done in real time, he shared them with other senior members of the FBI. But he also explained that he didn`t share those things with the attorney general, right?
And this is it was a very mysterious thing he testified to. This was very serious stuff. He was very unnerved he said by what the president had done. He was so unnerved by it that he took copious notes and then he shared that information with the senior leadership of the FBI, so other people would know what happened, so there would be documentation of what had happened because he knew it was such a big deal.
But even though the FBI is part of a larger organization, it`s part of the Justice Department, and even though he was very aware that this was serious as a heart attack, this was a very serious thing, James Comey made a deliberate decision at the time that although he would tell everybody in the FBI, he would not go upstairs and tell the attorney general what had just happened. And in that testimony before Congress he explained why not.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: OK, you have the president of the United States asking you to stop an investigation that`s an important investigation. What was the response of your colleagues?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I think they were as shocked and troubled by it as I was. Some said things that led me to believe that. I don`t remember exactly, but the reaction was similar to mine they`re all experienced people who had never experienced such a thing, so they were very concerned.
And then the conversation turned to about, so what should we do with this information? And that was a struggle for us because we are the leaders of the FBI, so it`s been reported to us and that I heard it and now I`ve shared it with the leaders of the FBI. Our conversation was, should we share this with any senior officials at the Justice Department?
Our absolute primary concern was, we can`t infect the investigative team. We don`t want the agents and analysts working on this to know the president of United States has asked -- and when it comes to the president I took it as a direction -- to get rid of this investigation because we`re not going to follow that -- that request. And so, we decided we got to keep it away from our troops but is there anybody else we ought to tell at the Justice Department?
We considered whether to tell the attorney general, decided that didn`t make sense because we believed rightly that he was shortly going to recuse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hmm. So, the senior leadership at the FBI is all in on what the president has just told Comey, but they decide they`re not going to report this to the attorney general, this troubling behavior by the president trying to shut down the Russia investigation.
And as James Comey explains there, they decided not to tell the attorney general because they believe the attorney general was going to have to recuse himself from this investigation, was going to have to remove himself from it entirely. Why did they think that? Why did they anticipate that that was going to happen?
Senator Ron Wyden went back to this point with James Comey and drew him out about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Let me turn to the attorney general. In your statement, you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president`s actions with Attorney General Sessions even though he had not recused himself. What was it about the attorney general`s own interactions with the Russians or his behavior with regard to the investigation that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?
COMEY: Our judgment as I recall was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can`t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We were aware of facts I can`t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic. Can`t discuss in an open session, but we knew things about the Attorney General Jeff Sessions that let us know what a problem it would be for him to stay involved in anything related to Russia.
What were those things? What did you know? Right?
This was this intriguing question left open by James Comey when he testified before Congress in June. We had no idea what he was talking about, until the following month in July when "The Washington Post" had this scoop, which we think explains what Comey was probably talking about.
Headline: Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador according to U.S. intelligence intercepts. Quote: Contrary to public assertions by the attorney general, Russia`s ambassador to D.C. told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak`s accounts of two conversations with Sessions were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials in the U.S. and Russia.
Jeff Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said the meetings were not about the Trump campaign. The information contradicting Jeff Sessions comes from U.S. intelligence on Kislyak`s communications with the Kremlin.
So, I mean, looking back on this is kind of remarkable that Jeff Sessions stayed on as attorney general after this was revealed, that he didn`t quit or that he wasn`t fired, right? In his confirmation hearings in January, he had insisted in person under oath and in his written responses that he had no contacts with any Russians, no contacts with anybody connected with any part of the Russian government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLI.P)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I`m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn`t have -- did not have communications with the Russians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Attorney general saying in January under oath, I didn`t have any communications with the Russians. That was in January.
Well, on March 1st, "The Washington Post" reported, oh, yes, you did. You`ve had multiple meetings with the Russian ambassador.
The day after that "Washington Post" report, the attorney general recused himself from the Russia investigation. The FBI knew he would have to, right? He said he would no longer oversee investigations related to the Russia or anything else having to do with the 2016 campaign.
In recusing himself though, even still, he kept up the denials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: Let me be clear: I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, in January, he says, I definitely didn`t meet with any Russians. In March, OK, I met with Russians but it wasn`t about any campaign related matters. By July, read all about it in "The Washington Post", it was about campaign related matters.
The Russian ambassador called home to the Kremlin to tell the Kremlin about his meetings with Jeff Sessions and what U.S. intelligence agencies heard him say was that in fact he talked to Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the campaign. Now, that ends up being important for a few different reasons given the news that we just learned today about the attorney general.
Today, Michael Schmidt at "The New York Times" was first to report that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, top law enforcement official in the U.S., has just been interviewed for hours by the special counsel Robert Mueller.
Now, we don`t know the scope of the special counsel`s questions for the attorney general. We don`t know if it`s of interest to the special counsel that the attorney general has apparently made repeated factual misstatements about his own contacts with the Russian government, both about the frequency of those communications and the content of those communications.
I mean, lying about contact with the Russian government is something that has already brought about guilty pleas to felony charges from two members of the Trump campaign who have now become cooperating witnesses for the government. I mean, I think we can assume that the attorney general is smart enough that he wouldn`t lie about his contact with the Russian government to Robert Mueller, to the special counsel and his investigators. But he has repeatedly said factually untrue things about those contacts in the past, including under oath.
So, we don`t know Jeff Sessions his own contacts and communications with Russia and his statements about those contacts and communications will be of direct interest to the special counsel. Jeff Sessions also headed up the national security and foreign policy teams on the Trump campaign during the election. Theoretically at least, that means both men who have pled guilty and become cooperating witnesses in the investigation thus far they both reported to him during the campaign. So, that may also be of interest to the special counsel.
But there`s another reason why that early mysterious morning from James Comey about the attorney general is newly important to what has just happened in today`s news and that`s because Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, he isn`t the only high-ranking person in this president`s orbit who has been caught out or at least caught in a bad spot specifically because the intelligence community heard it, because of intelligence intercepts, right, because of surveillance.
Jeff Sessions tried to deny he ever met with any Russian officials. Later when he had to admit that he had met with Russian officials, he tried to say they never discussed anything about the campaign. That was blown up when U.S. intelligence intercepts captured a Russian official describing his contacts with Jeff Sessions in a call home to the Kremlin.
It was intelligence intercepts that brought down Mike Flynn as well, right? We know from the statement of his offense in the criminal case that Mike Flynn also tried to deny contacts with the Russian government, tried to lie about the content of his communications with the Russian government. U.S. intelligence intercepts, U.S. intelligence surveillance of the Russian ambassador proved him wrong. That`s what ultimately put Mike Flynn in the pickle he now finds himself.
It was the same thing with presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. May 26th, "The Washington Post", quote, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that he and Jared Kushner discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump`s transition and the Kremlin. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for those communications.
Intelligence intercepts caught out Jared Kushner at a time that he was trying to say he`d had no contacts with the Russian government let alone about setting up a secret back channel using Russian facilities to shield those communications from the U.S. government. Well, now, just in the past few days, it`s happened again. It`s bombshell new reporting in the "New Yorker" magazine. This report from Adam Entous, who used to work at "The Washington Post", and Evan Osnos who was on the show here last night, this report that once again U.S. intelligence intercepts, U.S. surveillance of foreign government officials caught out again Jared Kushner.
Quote: U.S. intelligence agencies aggressively target Chinese government communications, including the Chinese ambassador`s reports to Beijing about his meetings in the United States. According to current and former officials briefed on U.S. intelligence about Chinese communications, Chinese officials said their ambassador and Jared Kushner discussed Kushner`s business interests, along with U.S. policy while Kushner and the Chinese ambassador we`re holding meetings to prepare for the Chinese president`s visit to Mar-a-Lago this past spring.
It`s that surveillance, right? It`s the intercepts. Over and over again with all these different senior people in the Trump campaign and the Trump administration, they make public denials or they make denials to the FBI, and then those denials get blown out of the water by evidence, specifically by intelligence intercepts, by surveillance information, right, collected by intelligence agencies while they are surveilling foreign government officials. The intelligence intercepts keep getting them.
How do you fix that problem? If you see that as a problem, how do you fix that?
Well, Republicans in Congress are dramatically stepping up they`re at efforts to attack and undermine the FBI and they are now very specifically going at the FBI to try to make a scandal out of their collection of intelligence intercepts. As Attorney General Jeff Sessions was being interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors last week, the end of last week, Republicans in the House were opening up a new offensive to try and shut down the Russia investigation some other way.
House Republicans have written a memo indicting the FBI for its collection of intelligence intercepts in the Russia investigation. These Republican written talking points indicting the FBI say that the FBI`s surveillance tactics and the Russia investigation the means by which they collect information particularly on foreign sources, that itself is the scandal here, that Republican memo designed to attack the FBI specifically on intelligence intercepts, that I`m guessing should probably be coming out any day now. I wouldn`t be surprised if it came out tonight, late tonight or tomorrow morning the way they`re trying to get that out.
But while Trump supporting Republicans in Congress are going right at that that key and often deadly core competence of U.S. law enforcement and U.S. intelligence in this investigation, they`re also continuing to collect scalps at the FBI itself, very specific scalps.
Let`s go back to that dramatic Comey testimony from this summer one more time. Now, as I mentioned before, he left that dramatic open question hanging out there, right, about why he didn`t tell -- why he and the FBI didn`t tell attorney General Jeff Sessions about what he thought was very troubling behavior by the president. The president basically directing the FBI to kibosh the Russia investigation.
James Comey explained why he didn`t tell Jeff Sessions about that, given what we now know to be Sessions` own implication in that scandal. But the reason he was explaining that is because there are a bunch of other people who he did tell and he told them for a very specific reason.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: I knew that there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened not just to defend myself but to defend the FBI and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigative function.
FEINSTEIN: Who did you talk with about that lifting the clouds stopping the investigation back at the FBI and what was their response?
COMEY: I discussed the lifting the cloud in the request with the senior leadership team who in typically and I think in all these circumstances was the deputy director, my chief of staff, the general counsel, the deputy director`s chief counsel and I think in a number of circumstances, the number three in the FBI, and a few of the conversations included the head of the national security branch. So, that group of us that lead the FBI when it comes to national security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s who that`s who he tells and -- right? Just think about the circumstance he`s in right there. This is a very serious thing. The FBI director is essentially rattled. He believes that the president of the United States is directing him and directing the FBI to shut down an investigation, a criminal and counterintelligence investigation into the president`s own campaign and so, he documents the president`s behavior.
He concludes, rightly, that the president may very well deny that he ever exerted those pressure -- exerted that pressure or said those things to the FBI director. So, the FBI director wants to document what the president did. He wants to have corroborating support for what he says he witnessed in terms of the president`s behavior and statements so he preserves the evidence right he writes it down himself and he tells other senior leadership at the FBI contemporaneously in the moment.
And when he testifies about that last June, he doesn`t list those other officials who he told at the FBI by name, but we`ve been able to figure out who most of them were based on their titles, and this is not really important for all of us. If the president of the United States is going to be potentially criminally liable for obstruction of justice in this matter, pressuring the FBI to drop the Russia investigation, firing the FBI director when it didn`t happen, if that`s a potential criminal liability for the president of the United States, then the people who have the evidence, they`re really important, right?
That list of senior FBI officials who were brought in by James Comey into what he witnessed, those are people who can who retain and can support the evidence of what the president did, right? These are the people who will provide that evidence, who can support the evidence that Comey collected. And it`s a short list, right?
One is James Comey himself, right? Well, the president has already fired him and the White House and Republicans in Congress have been smearing James Comey and denouncing him as a partisan terrible person ever since, doing everything they can to undermine his credibility. One of the other people who come he brought in, Andrew McCabe, deputy director of the FBI who the president has also been publicly denouncing for months. He is now reportedly getting retired out of the FBI within the next few weeks, retired out at the old age of 49.
There`s been reports that the attorney general has been pressuring the FBI -- current FBI Director Chris Wray to get Andrew McCabe out of there. There had been reports both in "The Washington Post" and the -- excuse me, both at CNN and Axios.com over the last two days that the current FBI director threatened to resign if Andrew McCabe was, in fact, removed from the FBI but we believe he`s still going to retire out very shortly.
One of Comey`s other corroborating witnesses was the general counsel of the FBI, Jim Baker, who remains at the FBI for now but he has mysteriously been reassigned to a job nobody can describe with responsibilities no one can name. Nobody quite knows why James Baker has been ousted from his senior position at the FBI and busted down to some invisible tertiary spot where he`s basically responsible for watering the plants. But the president has been taking shots at him publicly as well.
Then there`s Jim Rybicki who was chief of staff to the FBI director both under Comey and under his successor Chris Wray. Today, Chris Wray announced that Rybicki, too, he`s out. This follows Republicans in Congress taking shots at him as well trying to construe him as a partisan.
If there is an obstruction of justice case to make against this president for the firing of James Comey, there are six people on the list that we know of who were in on the evidence, who have evidence of the president`s behavior in that matter. Of those six, four of them have now been out stood or sidelined at the FBI and smeared by the White House and the Republicans -- four of the six.
When Comey came up with the evidence that the president had tried to obstruct justice in the Russia matter, they tried to destroy Comey. Comey thought ahead and had backup now they`re destroying his backup.
"The Washington Post" reports tonight that the special counsel is pursuing an interview with the president himself soon in coming weeks, and that the focus of that interview will be obstruction of justice. Quote: Special counsel`s office has indicated that the White House, that the two central subjects investigators wish to discuss with the president are the departures of Flynn and Comey and the events surrounding their firings.
As FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe gets pushed out of the FBI as well, late tonight, "The Washington Post" has just reported that right after President Trump fired James Comey, he summoned Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to the Oval Office, quote, according to several current and former U.S. officials, the two men exchanged pleasantries. But before long, Trump asked Andrew McCabe a pointed question whom did he vote for in the 2016 election? McCabe said he did not vote, according to the officials. Nevertheless, Trump, quote, also vented his anger at McCabe over donations his wife had received for her failed 2015 Virginia state Senate bid from a political action committee controlled by a close friend of Hillary Clinton.
McCabe has spent more than two decades at the FBI. He found the conversation with Trump disturbing, according to one former U.S. official. Inside the FBI, officials familiar with the exchange expressed frustration that any civil servant, even a very senior agent at the number two position at the FBI would be asked how he voted and criticized for his wife`s political leanings by the president.
Quote: One person said the Trump-McCabe conversation is now of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller.
Carol Leonnig from "The Washington Post" joins us next.
MADDOW: In the last 12 hours, we`ve learned that both the current attorney general and the former FBI Director James Comey have been interviewed by the special counsel`s team. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly interviewed for hours last week. James Comey was reportedly interviewed before the turn of the year, last year, by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team.
As Republicans in Congress keep up their attacks trying to undermine the FBI and its senior leadership over the Russia investigation, amid reports that the attorney general himself has been pressuring the new FBI director to get rid of other senior officials at the FBI, "The Washington Post" broke the news tonight that shortly after he fired FBI Director James Comey, President Trump personally summoned the deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, into the Oval Office. Once McCabe was there, the president reportedly demanded that McCabe tell him who he voted for in the 2016 election. The deputy director reportedly responded that he did not vote.
This matter, this conversation is now reportedly a matter of interest to the special counsel Robert Mueller. Amid these breaking news stories today, we`ve also learned in "The Washington Post" that Robert Mueller also wants to talk to the president in coming weeks about perhaps the two highest profile exits from his administration those of Michael Flynn and James Comey.
One of the reporters behind that scoop is Carol Leonnig of "The Washington Post" who joins us now.
Carol, thanks very much for being here. It`s been a heck of a busy day.
CAROL LEONNIG, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It`s been pretty busy at "The Washington Post" today.
MADDOW: Yes, it`s -- I feel like every time I stop clicking refresh on the front page, I`m being irresponsible.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about your reporting specifically on the interest in the special counsel in talking to the president. There has been some previous reporting that a potential appearance by the president in front of the special counsel was being negotiated, that the president`s legal team was offering ways that they wanted to do it. There was some discussion or at least speculation as to what special counsel -- the special counsel`s team might want to talk to the president about.
What`s the -- how far can we explain now in terms of how those negotiation -- how far those negotiations have gone?
LEONNIG: So, in early January which feels like a year ago now, but it`s only a few weeks, we reported basically that Mueller had made his first signal to the Trump lawyer team, look, I`m going to be interested in interviewing the president and that shouldn`t be shocking to anybody that the special counsel wants to question the person who headed up the campaign, the transition team and ultimately the Oval Office that is the center of the probe.
However, what`s new and an interesting since is that in the last week or two, we understand the special counsel has made clear to the legal team the topics he wants to probe and question the president about. And because those are squarely in the area of the president`s own actions, you`re firing Mr. President of Michael Flynn or pushing him out of office and you`re firing in May of 2017 the FBI Director James Comey, we know that this is a probe very much focused on the president`s actions, decisions and also whether or not he or any of his other aides sought to blunt and thwart this counterintelligence and criminal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Now, you asked the question, Rachel, smartly what do we know about the negotiations. What we know is that the legal team for the president has crafted in their own strategy what they hope to get from Mueller. They haven`t made a formal proposal yet. They hope to do that soon, maybe as early as next week we`ll see. And our sources tell us that Mueller will receive this and decide as he will because ultimately he has the power to issue a grand jury subpoena to the president. He doesn`t really have to meet any demands coming from the witness.
MADDOW: And that`s a very important point there at the end. I mean, one of the things that`s hard to view just as a layman outside or just as a citizen watching this stuff is how much negotiation there ought to be, how much the special counsel feels he must negotiate these terms with the president`s legal team, whether it`s about the exact circumstances of how and where the president testifies or whether they actually need to disclose in advance to the president`s legal team, all of the ground that they`ll cover and feel limited to that.
LEONNIG: Well, it seems like a natural courtesy -- well, let me say one thing first. When you`re a federal investigator or prosecutor and requesting an interview with the president, it`s not a small matter. I mean, there is some precedent for this of proving and establishing that you really need the president`s testimony, you can`t learn what he has to say from any other document or any other method, that there`s something relevant and important to your probe. It`s not a small matter to interview the president.
That being said previous investigators have certainly negotiated generous terms you know, if you will, about the way in which this interview will take place. Some have gotten a little more rough as when Ken Starr and Bill Clinton`s legal teams squared off and ultimately the Starr investigation subpoenaed Bill Clinton. He was the first president to be interviewed under grand jury subpoena and hooked up by live audio and video link to a grand jury.
I don`t think it`s going to get to that with President Trump but I don`t think that the Trump`s legal team is going to get everything that they want. Part of what they want is a lot of written questions and the ability to submit written answers on behalf of the president and I -- we`ll see, to quote the president, but I don`t know that that the special counsel`s office is going to agree to all of that.
MADDOW: Yes, if I -- if I were them, I would want that too. We shall -- we shall see how this -- how this is sloshes out.
Carol Leonnig, national reporter at "The Washington Post" on this incredible day of scoops from "The Post" -- thank you for being here. Congratulations to you and your colleagues for advancing so much of what we know tonight.
LEONNIG: Thanks, Rachel.
All right. We got much more hit tonight. As I mentioned at the top of the show, Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate is about to join us live for his first interview since the government shutdown. Stay with us.
MADDOW: -- Washington D.C. right now, but one feature of his work life now is that he sometimes gets protests at his home in Brooklyn, even when he`s not there, which is tonight. This comes after the end of a three-day government shutdown that many people in the Democratic base thought was going to be a means of Democrats forcing some progress in the law for DREAMers, for young people brought here as kids who are now facing deportation under the Trump administration.
The shutdown did not achieve anything concrete for the DREAMers, other than a vague promise from the Republican side that they would work on it, but they might allow a vote on it in the future. The vagueness of that prospect, as well as the realization that Republicans in the House have no intention at all of fixing anything for the DREAMers, even if the Senate miraculously does something, that has provided a very hard landing after this weird three days shutdown for Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in particular.
And he joins us here live for his first interview since the shutdown next.
MADDOW: We had a government shutdown for three days from Friday to Monday. It`s over now. But it seems absolutely feasible that we`re about to have another one two weeks from Thursday, which is when the government is slated to run out of money again.
This is, as they say, no way to run a country.
Joining us now for his first interview since the three-day shutdown is Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Senator Schumer, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Hi, Rachel. Good to hear from you again.
MADDOW: So, liberals and a lot of Democrats are furious with you right now. The way they see this shutdown is that Democrats raise the prospect, raised hopes that by sticking together through the shutdown and sticking to their principles, they could somehow get protection for the DREAMers passed into law. That obviously didn`t happen. Democrats split and then voted to reopen the government without that happening.
What`s your response to all that anger?
SCHUMER: Well, look, we advanced the cause. What people have to understand and I think most people do, most of the Democrats here on Capitol Hill perfectly understand, we don`t have the levers of power. We have a Republican president, Republican Senate, a Republican House, all three of the most anti-immigration that there is.
So, we have to be smart and thoughtful and careful about how we advance the cause. And I sat down with President Trump on Friday and offered him quite a bit. He made an offer for a wall. I said if we do full DREAMers, we`ll give you the deal and he basically agreed.
So, we were close. Then he pulled out and backed off, so now I`ve taken the wall off the table because they backed out of that deal, and then he shut the government down.
Now, for two days, the government was shut down, but all of us in the Democratic Caucus, not just the moderates but liberals as well came to the view that if we carried it on much longer, two things would happen. A, no one would budge. The public would lose support of the shutdown. The public does not like shutdowns and we`d actually lose support for DREAMers, too, because people love the DREAMers but don`t want the government shut down for it.
So, we cut the best deal we could. And it`s more than just a vague promise, Rachel. McConnell said on the floor, and I realize sometimes he`s broken his word before, but he said on the floor we will definitely get a vote on February 8th of a bipartisan bill on DREAMers that has my OK.
So, it will be a good bill. And the thing about McConnell`s promise, he didn`t just make it to me. He made it to 10 Republican members of his caucus. A leader is very, very reluctant to break a promise to members of his caucus.
So, now we have a chance to get 60 votes for DREAMers in the Senate. And I met today with the DREAMers and all the other groups and we all agreed we`re going to focus our energy on fighting the fight we have now. Every Democrat, all 49, are for DREAMers. We have six or seven Republicans who are for them. So, if we get four or five more, we can get the vote in the Senate.
Now, you say that`s not the House, that`s correct. But nothing was going to force the House because McConnell refused to put any of the DREAMer legislation on the so-called must-pass bill. That was our hope when Friday night began and Trump shut the government down.
But if we pass it in the Senate with a bipartisan vote, we have a good chance to put pressure on the House to do it, particularly if they don`t do it by March 5th, the awful, awful, awful pictures of DREAMers being deported, I think will rally the nation and the House will be forced to do it.
So, this was what we thought was the best shot we had. You know, when Trump shut the government down and we wouldn`t go along, it`s the first time Democrats did it, and we did it for DREAMers because we care. But we have to do -- we have to use the few tools we have to get the best result.
MADDOW: On Sunday night, you turned down the chance to vote for the C.R., funding of the government without the things that you were standing up for, with the kind of strategy that you`re describing here. But then the following day, yesterday, you took that same deal that you had turned down the night before --
SCHUMER: Yes. No.
MADDOW: -- and I hear what you`re saying in terms of what power you had, but that can`t have been the plan to stand up for it for a few days and then ultimately vote for what you previously said no to.
SCHUMER: No, we didn`t have -- Rachel, we didn`t have the offer until late Sunday night. Susan Collins, who has been a good person on this, came to my office. I said the promise McConnell made, the vague promise as of Sunday isn`t enough. We need him to commit that A, we would get a vote on a clean bill, B, that it would be a vote of a bill that I okayed so it couldn`t be a fake bill or a bill filled with lots of poison pills, and that it would come to the floor a specific time, the week of February 8th.
Is there a guarantee McConnell keeps his word? No. But we`re going to hold his feet to the fire and everyone in your audience who cares about DREAMers should focus on McConnell.
That`s what we all agreed to today. We had a very good meeting. There was a lot of upsetness in the room, of course, not at us really, but because the DREAMers haven`t gotten what they need and the time is ticking. But everyone agreed the focus should be on McConnell and the Republican senators.
Democrats are all for DREAMers and to get in a circular firing squad and shoot at Democrats when we don`t have the power and we have to use the limited power we have, and as strategic a way as we can, that`s what makes sense, focusing on the Republicans.
MADDOW: Senator, I`m not a politician and I know you`re a good one and you get --
SCHUMER: You`re good at understanding this.
MADDOW: I`ve tried to explain people`s behavior for a living. That`s what I try to do.
MADDOW: And I have to say, just looking at this from a strategic point of view, right, on the DREAMers specifically, Trump took action to kill the DACA program five months ago. Every passing day, more people --
MADDOW: -- who were brought here as kids are closer to deportation because of that. The way this fight unfolded doesn`t feel like it got us closer to solving that problem, even though you`re saying it --
SCHUMER: Well, you know what, Rachel --
MADDOW: And the reason that -- but let me just say, the reason it doesn`t feel like we`re closer is because Republicans think they won this. Republicans think that Democrats stood up for something and caved and that essentially gives them a scalp that emboldens them and now in the House --
SCHUMER: Rachel, in all due respect that we have that attitude that we can never accomplish anything, we`ll lose. The DREAMers who we met with who were heads of the organizations and all of us, Dick Durbin who has been the leader on DREAMers, myself, believe we have a chance two weeks from now.
Is there a guarantee of success? That`s what you seem to be asking for and we don`t have a guarantee of success. So, we have to do everything we can.
Let me just say this. I`m passionate about the DREAMers. My middle name is Ellis, Ellis Island. We named the middle name of my daughter Emma for Emma Lazarus, the poet on the Statue of Liberty. You know, who wrote the poem, give me your tired, your poor.
We`re doing everything we can. But what people have to understand is, we don`t have a magic wand. We don`t control -- if we become the majority next year, if the House becomes the majority, we will get DREAMers. Now, obviously, we don`t have the time with what Trump has done.
But we have a chance in February, do not give up. We`re only four senators short. This last three days has focused more attention on the DREAMers than ever before.
We`re trying to get corporate CEOs who know these Republicans to call. We`re trying to get every citizen. We have the list of 11 or 12 who are possible who could vote for us. We only need four or five more to call, to e-mail, to write.
That`s what should be done here. We`re doing everything we can. I don`t mind the protests outside my office. I cut my teeth in the McCarthy campaign where there were protests.
But I`m on their side of the DREAMers, and I`m doing everything I can. We need more people to join us so we get 60 votes in the Senate. And now we have a chance to get that.
MADDOW: At this point in the fight, when I look at Republicans in the House, I see them just over the last couple of days as becoming even more hard-line than they`ve ever been on this issue. Steve Scalise said today, no deal with the House. There`s no chance -- basically, there is no chance that we`re going bring this up.
You see the hard-liners, the super anti-immigrant hard liners in the Republican caucus --
SCHUMER: Yes. They --
MADDOW: -- now thinking that they`re going get the most anti-immigrant bill they could possibly hope for passed through the House --
SCHUMER: Well --
MADDOW: -- because they got a scalp here in the shutdown.
SCHUMER: Well, first, we will not let -- we can stop --
MADDOW: Do you think that this politics is hardening in the Republican Party?
SCHUMER: Well, no --
MADDOW: And if so, is there a Democratic plan to try to undermine that?
SCHUMER: Well, first, the hard right has always opposed immigration. Donald Trump ran on an anti-immigration platform. The Tea Party`s -- one of their fundamental values is anti-immigrant, which is horrible, disgusting. But that`s who they are.
But here is what we think. If the Senate passes the bill and it`s bipartisan, there may be enough moderate and mainstream Republicans in the House, many of whom are vulnerable for reelection who will feel they have to come across particularly if these sons of guns wait until after March 5th. And I think, God forbid, but the pictures of people being deported will rally the nation, and these more mainstream Republicans admittedly, not a majority of the Republican Party, but enough when they add them to Democrats could pass the bill.
And then you have the whimsical -- that`s a kind word -- Donald Trump. He may wake up one morning and say, get this bill done.
We`re still in play. We`re in better shape than we were five days ago. You`re right. Nothing happened for months because they control the agenda. And we`ve got to not lose the spirit or the fight. We can try and maybe even win. I`m not giving up. I hope you won`t, Rachel.
MADDOW: Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, thank you for talking to us about this tonight, sir.
SCHUMER: Thank you.
MADDOW: I hope you`ll come back. Keep us apprised as these things continue to unfold.
SCHUMER: You never know what happens and you`ve got to keep fighting.
MADDOW: I hear you, sir. Thank you.
SCHUMER: Thank you. Bye-bye.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- tops, sedans, convertibles, station wagons, see, test drive and compare the economy champ up all compacts, the Lark.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Lark by Studebaker. The Lark was a compact car started hitting the road in 1959. Now, in the beginning, it was a teeny, teeny, tiny little two-door sedan. But by 1961, the fine folks at Studebaker had like an engineering breakthrough, sort of, that`s at least how they pitched it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feel crammed in the compact you bought, the old squeeze play got you down, when you closed the doors of your compact, do the passengers feel like this? Maybe you should have looked at The Lark by Studebaker first, roomy comfort for six people, the only compact that gives you that big car filled, lavish interiors, rich fabrics or pleated vinyl give The Lark that continental touch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That continental touch. It`s got pleated vinyl, so it feels bigger.
The 1961 Studebaker Lark was not just a compact sedan. They literally advertised it as a clown car. Yes, I may look small on the outside, but room for you and everybody else on the inside. Did we mention the vinyl is pleated? The Lark.
That clown car dynamic is playing out in our politics right now in a story with a surprisingly huge number of people crammed inside it. By now, you may have heard that for the first time in nearly 20 years, we are sending a sitting American president to the elite of the elites, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The last sitting U.S. president to go to Davos was Bill Clinton in the year 2000. President Trump is going this year. He`s scheduled to arrive tomorrow. There was a question as to whether the government shutdown would derail the plans but the trip is on.
Here`s my question though: who`s still going to be in Washington when the president gets there? Have you seen the list of people who are going? I mean, it`s a big thing for the president alone to be going to Davos, but look at everybody he`s bringing.
All of these people are going to Davos: the president, also Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, director of the national economic council, Gary Cohn, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, senior advisor the president and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
And he`s also bringing -- oh, yes, secretary of labor, secretary of transportation, U.S. trade representative, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the director of the National Institutes of Health, the commissioner of the FDA, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, and the director of strategic initiatives at the White House. Include -- plus the president and that`s just the ones we know about.
When we saw this list, I wondered, A, is there going to be a designated survivor? But I also wondered if like Hope Hicks is going to be going or Ivanka Trump or Stephen Miller?
We asked the White House about that tonight and they told us this, quote: we did not list all staff traveling but simply said staff. There are several staff first traveling who are not on that list. So, it`s not just it.
There`s even more than that though who are going. I mean, Davos host this event every year. There`s lots of protesters usually. You have that many world leaders in one place, that is inevitable. This year, the protesters seem particularly inspired. Trump takes the fun out of fondue.
That`s outside. Inside, it`s a different story. Inside, the World Economic Forum, the president will be walking into room full of folks who will not be fazed by the six feet of snow they just got in Davos.
In particular, he`s going to be greeted by a lot of Russians, lots and lots and lots of high-profile Russians and particularly high-profile Russians from the finance sector are going to be at Davos this year. Executives from VEB Bank, the bank that met with Jared Kushner during the transition that he didn`t disclose. Also, VTB bank rumored to be the financing for Trump Tower Moscow. Sberbank, Oleg Deripaska, the Russian who met with Erik Prince in the Seychelles during the Trump transition, the Russian who founded Kaspersky Labs.
A lot of Trump administration officials are going. I wonder who they will hang out with when they`re there.
That does it for us tonight. We will see again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
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