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GOP try to discredit Mueller-Russia probe Transcript 1/26/18

Guests: Neal Katyal, Cory Booker, Nick Ackerman, Asawin Suebsaeng

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 26, 2018 Guest: Neal Katyal, Cory Booker, Nick Ackerman, Asawin Suebsaeng

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you very much. Have a good night.

All right. And thanks to at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off.

So, earlier this month, just a couple of days into the New Year, a very odd and dramatic thing happened in Washington, D.C. The deputy attorney general of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, basically the supervisor of the special counsel in charge of the Russia investigation and the FBI director, Chris Wray, made an unannounced visit to Capitol Hill. Reporters there spotted Rosenstein entering House Speaker Paul Ryan`s office and Ryan`s spokesperson confirmed that the deputy attorney general and the FBI director had requested the meeting.

And what made this unannounced meeting particularly dramatic was that at that moment, the Justice Department was in the middle of this really big ugly fight with a group of House Republicans, a group led by this guy, Devin Nunez, a California Republican and chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He was a member of the Trump transition team. And while because of that, he technically has recused himself from all things Trump in Russia, he`s been leading the most aggressive efforts in Congress to try and undercut the Mueller investigation, and to try to create alternative scandals at the White House likes better.

For months, Nunes has been issuing subpoenas to the Justice Department, demanding that they turn over documents related to the ongoing Russian investigation and for months, the Justice Department has been pushing back, telling Nunes that turning over that information would jeopardize an active counterintelligence investigation. Undeterred by those warnings from the DOJ, last month, House Republicans began moving to hold Rosenstein and Wray in contempt of Congress.

And so, on January 3rd, when Rosenstein and Wray showed up at Paul Ryan`s office, they were there to ask for House Speaker Paul Ryan`s help. They were hoping Paul Ryan would get Devin Nunes to back off. They did not get Paul Ryan`s help.

Instead, Speaker Ryan sided with Devin Nunes, and when Wray and Rosenstein emerged from that meeting, Nunes announced that the DOJ had agreed to provide access to everything he had requested. The compromise appeared to be that the documents would not be handed over to Nunes. Instead, the chairman and a handful of designated people from the House Intelligence Committee would go into a secured room at the DOJ to review them.

But there was one document that the DOJ deemed so sensitive, Chris Wray opted to personally show it to Devin Nunes himself. And apparently, what Devin Nunes then proceeded to do was to take in all of those classified documents about an ongoing counterintelligence investigation and turn around and put that information into a set of talking points, a memo, laying out a supposed conspiracy inside the FBI and inside the Justice Department to undermine the Trump campaign and the Trump presidency.

Now, if you`ve been watching or listening to or reading any right-wing media over the past week, you know this is all anyone on the right has been talking and tweeting about. This secret memo that`s going to bring down the whole Russia investigation, that`s going to reveal the conspiracy at the heart of the Justice Department, and it`s going to blow up the deep state.

Republicans on the Intelligence Committee voted last week to make that talking points memo available to the entire House. Now, they`re poised to vote to release it publicly. The Justice Department this week call that plan, quote, extraordinarily reckless and also charged that Congressman Nunes would be violating the terms of that deal they struck earlier this month in Paul Ryan`s office.

But Devin Nunes says, nope, that deal does not prevent them from doing anything. As for Paul Ryan, well, the speaker`s office sent us this statement. Quote, as previously reported, the speaker`s only message to the department was that it needed to comply with oversight requests and there were no terms set for its compliance -- which I think means Paul Ryan is saying, sorry, Justice Department, he`s siding with Nunes again.

But there`s one other person who got access to all those classified documents under the deal the Justice Department struck with Nunes, and that is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff.

And he sent us this statement, quote: Access to the underlying materials used by the majority to produce its talking points memo was limited to the chairman or designee, that`s Nunes, ranking member, that`s Schiff, and appropriate staff. The majority doesn`t dispute this, but makes the absurd claim that after reviewing the materials, the agreement did not preclude them from sharing the information with any other members of Congress. If that were true, there was no point to limiting access to the materials in the first place. The majority is in clear violation of its commitment to the Justice Department.

So, this is pretty remarkable, right? The Trump Justice Department is allied with House Democrats in a fight against House Republicans. And this fight and all the hyperventilating on the right about this memo, all of this may just feel like background noise given all of the other things that are broken in the Russia story in just the past 24 hours, let alone the past week.

But here`s one reason why this may be really important: we are, of course, still in the midst of the fallout from last night`s bombshell "New York Times" report that the president gave the order to fire special counsel Robert Mueller back in June, and only backed off because the White House counsel threatened to quit rather than carry out that order. That story which has now been confirmed by NBC News and several other outlets and that Trumpet described today as fake news, has ignited fears that Donald Trump may try to fire Robert Mueller again.

But Mueller is not the only person that Trump considered firing. According to "The Times", quote, another option that Mr. Trump considered in discussions with his advisors was dismissing the Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. Trump has frequently taken shots at Rosenstein in the past, and he is said to still be furious that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself and put Rosenstein in charge of the Russia investigation.

We also know that Republicans have been on a mission to discredit FBI and Justice Department officials who have played key roles in the Trump Russia investigation, particularly those who might be able to corroborate fired FBI Director James Comey testimony that Trump pressured him to end that investigation.

Just tonight, Murray Waas reports at "Foreign Policy" that Trump, quote, pressed senior aides last June to devise and carry out a campaign to discredit senior FBI officials after learning that those specific officials were likely to be witnesses against him as part of special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation. And we don`t know exactly what is in this memo Devin Nunes put together.

But Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman at "The Daily Beast" reported this week that it targets three people in particular. Quote: a controversial Republican memo alleging surveillance abuse specifically names FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, along with former FBI Director James Comey. And when it comes out, these current and former officials are likely to face even more criticism from the right over their involvement in FBI counterintelligence work.

So, Comey is gone. McCabe is on his way out, he`s being retired at the ripe old age of 49. But how about Rosenstein? Is it his time in the barrel next, to use an old Roger Stonism. Especially after last night`s "New York Times" report, all the attention and energy has been focused on the potential for Trump to fire Mueller. But what if it`s not Mueller he`s after?


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Listening to Republican members talk about a coup and talk about a criminal activity in the FBI that will encourage the president to think that he can fire Mueller with impunity or perhaps even more pernicious from my point of view, fire Rod Rosenstein, put in place someone who will tell Rod to -- will tell Bob Mueller privately, you cannot look into these issues. You cannot follow the money.


REID: Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, on this program last month saying it would be even more pernicious to fire Rod Rosenstein than to fire Bob Mueller. Is that true? And what would happen if Trump did it anyway?

Joining us now is Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general back in 1999 when he worked in the Justice Department under then Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder. He helped write the very rules that allowed for the appointment of special counsels like Robert Mueller. And today, he has a new op-ed in "The Washington Post", "Yes, Trump can fire Mueller, but a normal press would know not to try it".

Mr. Katyal, thank you very much for being here. I appreciate you being here tonight.


REID: So, let`s talk about -- you wrote in this op-ed a couple of points. The first point and I`ll read a little bit of your op-ed, is that at this moment, many wish for legal restrictions in the special counsel regulations that would block Trump from firing Mueller. But rules can only do so much. Institutions are often what matters. Our system instead depends on two weapons, separation of powers and the election of individuals with character and judgment. Right now, both of these are lacking.

When you write that, which officials who are lacking the character and in determination did you have in mind?

KATYAL: Well, I definitely have in mind the president, and you know, I think it`s important to take a step back and understand what, you know, you call this bombshell "New York Times" report, actually means this idea that the president tried to fire Mueller. I really do think that we are very possibly seeing the end of the Trump presidency as a result of those revelations, and those are not words I use lightly.

But this is first time I`ve said anything like this and it is because of two things. One is the legal stuff we`ve been talking about. There`s an open investigation by Mueller of Trump for obstruction of justice, for firing Comey for demanding a loyalty of everyone around him seems to be incapable of telling the truth when it comes to Russia, 19 separate lies about who was meeting with the Russians and the like. And so, you`ve got the elements of cover-up, and that`s what people have been talking about today.

There`s a second thing a non-legal aspect to this, which I think is even more important and that is, does this person have the character to pick up the words of the op-ed, to be the president of the United States? You know, Trump was asked about whether he was thinking about firing Mueller in August of 2017, and he said, he, quote, hadn`t given it any thought, and he sent his lawyer out, John Dowd, to say firing Mueller`s, quote, never been on the table, never, and it`s a manifestation of the media and Kellyanne Conway said similar things.

And I can`t imagine that a president would say those things after what he did two months earlier in trying to fire Mueller, I can`t imagine his advisors did it, I can`t imagine a lawyer to the president who`s bound by all sorts of ethical rules and so on would say that and not at least correct the record later on. So, there`s a very severe credibility problem with the president whenever Russia comes up.

And you know, just think about, if we knew all of this stuff before, you`ve been talking about the Devin Nunes antics and this memo and so on, if we knew all of this stuff for the last seven months, the last seven months have been a debate that Trump has started about Mueller being biased against him and the FBI being biased and so on, would have been sure helpful to know, well, the president tried it with some bogus three rationales to try and fire Trump back in June and was rebuffed.

REID: To fire Mueller.

You know, but you then mentioned Paul Ryan and Devin Nunes, because in order for a president to be held accountable, and we`re going to get from in a moment to whether or not he can be held legally accountable if he committed crimes while in office. But on the political side, the Constitution provides impeachment. But we already know that the speaker of the House has cited not once but twice with Devin Nunes, who is on a fishing expedition as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to essentially smear the FBI and attack the Justice Department.

So far, the speaker of the House up to now has not restrained, attempted to restrain Devin Nunes, or even to impede what he`s doing. He`s essentially given him an open door, which could result in some class of art or some important sensitive information being sent to the whole House for political use.

How then can we have confidence that it could be the end of the Trump administration? Would Republicans, those Republicans I just described, ever hold him accountable?

KATYAL: I mean, you`re right. If you just look at the past year and what Republicans in Congress have been doing -- I mean, James Madison wouldn`t be proud nor would Ronald Reagan. I mean, there is allegation of very serious wrongdoing by the president and the campaign. There have been guilty pleas around this and so on, and yet they you know act like ostriches.

So, yes, I think right now, they are to blame for a -- partially to blame for this. But I hold out hope that when these facts come out and if the Mueller investigation is allowed to proceed, that no one will be able to look at this and not say, boy, this looks like an attempted cover-up at the very least. And this is a president who is not shy about his assault on the rule of law.

REID: And very quickly, we don`t have much time you also write that there is a concern that rather than just firing Mueller out right, that Donald Trump could essentially put in a fire Rod Rosenstein and put in a assistant attorney general in place who would slow walk and bleed the Mueller investigation. How are you that that could happen?

KATYAL: Well, I am concerned. I mean, I think this administration and this president tries to do anything possible to undermine the rule of law wherever we can, and if that`s putting different appointees in place, that may be it . And yes, we`ve been blaming Republicans.

But there`s one Republican tonight that I don`t think we should be blaming and that is Rod Rosenstein, who has been appointed by Republican presidents, including by this president. He`s President Trump`s guy. President Trump nominated him to be deputy attorney general and put him in that position and now the president doesn`t trust him.

He`s been doing a good job in supervising the investigation, and I do think it`d be a constitutional calamity if something were to happen to Rosenstein.

REID: All right. Neil Katyal, former acting solicitor general, thank you very much for your time tonight.

KATYAL: Thank you.

REID: Thank you.

Let`s bring in Senator Cory Booker. He`s a member of the judiciary committee and he`s co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by the president.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us here tonight.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Joy, it`s so good to be with you. Thank you.

REID: Thank you very much.

Let`s start with talking about Robert Mueller. The bill that you`ve put forward to try to protect Robert Mueller, how would it change the rules for firing him from what they are now?

BOOKER: Well, as alluded to earlier in your segment, right now, the president states can order the Justice Department to do the firing. There`s no real check-and-balance. It`s supposed to be fired only for cause. But the arbiter of who that cause is really comes back to the president of the United States.

And we have a real makings of a constitutional crisis. Here, a president of the United States can be under investigation, could have had people in his inner circle indicted or pled guilty, and then decide, OK, I`m just going to fire that person and we know that that would already it blow up norms, we know that would already really undermine our democracy, create a crisis.

And so, what our build simply says is let`s create a check and a balance to that power by letting the judiciary decide once a president has decided to give that order or someone in the Justice Department has, that the supreme court or a set of judges can give a review as to whether that action was indeed for cause or unfortunately potentially just for political purposes.

REID: And just for our viewers the legislation proposed by yourself and Senator Lindsey Graham says, the Special Counsel Independent Protections Act is the name of it, a special counsel may be removed only after a court has issued an order finding misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or other good cause including violation of policies at the Department of Justice.

Are you concerned that the -- most people believe rather flimsy three reasons that Donald Trump reportedly gave when he tried to fire Mueller the first time, that he quit his golf club, that he had been considered for a job at the FBI and that kind of thing. Are you concerned that in the current -- under current law, Trump could actually use those kinds of flimsy justifications to push Mueller out?

BOOKER: I`m more than concerned. I`m seriously alarmed right now looking at the pattern of behavior of this president, whether it`s a firing of Comey, his intimidation of Jeff Sessions, and openly speaking about not wanting to have hired him because of his recusal, the way he even has these totalitarian instincts,. his authoritarian tendencies, the way he does which is very reminiscent of dictators talks about the person he ran against in office and talking about arresting them and convicting them.

This is someone who time and time again is showing authoritarian-like tendencies. They`re making me very concerned that he could not only blow up norms but lurch us into a constitutional crisis.

REID: And what would the Senate do if rather than firing Mueller or rather than firing Mueller, Donald Trump were to used what Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general called the sort of death by a thousand cuts strategy, essentially firing Rod Rosenstein and putting in place a deputy attorney general, somebody in Rosenstein`s position who would say you can`t look into those areas because they`re financial, you can`t have that budget allocation and essentially squeeze the investigation through the supervision, the supervisory power of the deputy attorney general.

BOOKER: Well, I`m grateful right now that, me, along with Lindsey Graham, and remember, Chuck Grassley granted our bill a hearing that you see senators on both sides of the aisle being concerned about this Trump behavior and trying to do rational prudent things to stop, should that eventuality come to be. But I`m concerned about the example that you give, as well as the long-standing efforts now, many, many weeks of the Republican echo machine, 24 hours news station and more, trying to undermine the integrity of this investigation and the integrity of Robert Mueller themselves.

There seems to be an assault on this process as opposed to letting the process take its course. And this isn`t just a political process. We know many facts right now, the Russians have tried to undermine what is most sacrosanct about our democracy, which is the electoral process. We know that there are people now who have been indicted, who pled guilty to aspects of that investigation. And we know that this is something that to me should take all of us are aware, we need to find out what happened and get to the bottom of it so we can prevent this from happening in the future.

This president should be allowing this investigation to continue staying away from it and waiting. If he has nothing to fear, if he did nothing wrong, then we`ll just let the investigation proceed and be interviewed by the investigators as well.

REID: Well, we`ve seen in the House, some incredibly partisan behavior on the part of people like Devin Nunes, are you confident in your fellow senators, your Republican senators, that they`ll stand with you for the rule of law and not go back to defending the president as they so often do.

BOOKER: Again, I want to prevent this from having to come to that point. That`s why I push this legislation with Lindsey Graham. Let`s prevent a constitutional crisis from having to come home to the bear within our republic. It would be a disaster should Donald Trump do this. And we know that he has these inclinations.

In fact, you hear all the time people talking about thank god there are adults in the room, whether it`s Secretary Mattis. Whether it`s now the rod rather is now the White House counsel stopping this president from doing things that most people agree would be disastrous. That gives should give us all cause for alarm that we have a president so willing to trample upon Democratic principles, ideals, as well as the rule of law and democratic norms.

And so, we are in perilous times in my opinion and we need to begin to put the kind of checks and balances in place to preserve our democracy in the republic and make sure that we don`t get to those disaster moments.

REID: Senator Cory Booker, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

BOOKER: Thank you very much.

REID: Appreciate it.

All right. A little TV history now for you. Back in the day, breaking news was handled a little bit differently. If you wanted to get someone on the phone, you had to literally pick up the phone and call them on national television.

This is one of the most iconic breaking news nights in American history, and what happened next may help to answer one of the biggest questions swirling around the Russia investigation tonight. Can a sitting president of the United States be indicted? That`s next.


REID: On October 28th, 1973, NBC had to cancel the airing of "The Tonight Show", but they had quite a good reason.


ANNOUNCER: The tonight show will not be seen tonight so that when they bring you the following NBC News special report.

ARCHIBALD COX, WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: I read in one of the newspapers this morning the headline, Cox defiant. I do want to say that I don`t feel defiant.

JOHN CHANCELLOR: Good evening. The country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious constitutional crisis in its history. The president has fired the man you just saw, the special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Because of the president`s action, the attorney general has resigned, Elliott Richardson, who was appointed attorney general only last May in the midst of the Watergate scandals has quit, saying he cannot carry out Mr. Nixon`s instructions.

Richardson`s deputy William Ruckelshaus has been fired. Ruckelshaus refused in a moment of constitutional drama to obey a presidential order to fire the special Watergate prosecutor.

In my career as a correspondent, I never thought I`d be announcing these things.


REID: I never thought I`d be announcing these things. That was John Chancellor in the 1973, the night Richard Nixon fired the man in charge of the Watergate investigation, Archibald Cox. This was the front page of "The New York Times" the next day, Nixon discharges Cox for defiance, abolishes Watergate task force.

But here`s the thing about Nixon carrying out the firing of Archibald Cox. It turns out his task force didn`t stop investigating Watergate. It actually kept going even after Cox was let go.

The night of the Saturday Night Massacre, the special prosecutors team trekked down to the office to make sure all their documents and evidence were secure. The FBI sealed up the space to make sure nothing was tampered with, and then the investigation just kept going.

Soon, the investigation also got a new boss his name was Leon Jaworski, he did not want the job. And before he agreed to take it, he made sure that what happened to Archibald Cox would not happen to him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jaworski accepted the prosecutors job reluctantly and only after the white house assured him he`d have complete freedom in running the Watergate investigation. He told newsmen he`s confident he won`t suffer the same fate as his predecessor, Archibald Cox.

LEON JAWORSKI, WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: I`m not anticipating that this agreement will be reached. But on the other hand, one of the matters that I searched for and wanted was complete independence in this undertaking.


REID: I put a pin in complete independence. That was Leon Jaworski`s condition for taking the job as the new Watergate special prosecutor. And once he got it, Leon Jaworski got to work. He inherited the whole Watergate team and all the evidence they put together, and after looking at all that evidence stacked up against the president, Leon Jaworski started asking some questions, like can you actually indict a sitting president of the United States?

On February 12th, 1974, Leon Jaworski got some advice on that question in a memo from his staff. They told him, yes, you could in fact indict the president while he was still president. Quote: If the president were placed so much apart from all other citizens that he could escape the determination of whether there was probable cause to believe he has committed a crime, one can only imagine how much greater the public criticism would be. For us of the grand jury to shirk from an appropriate expression of our honest assessment of the evidence of the president`s guilt would not only be a departure from our responsibilities but a dangerous precedent, damaging to the rule of law.

Ultimately, Richard Nixon was not indicted, instead prosecutors opted to let the impeachment proceedings in Congress run their course, which, of course, led to Nixon`s resignation and eventual pardoned by President Gerald Ford for any and all crimes he might have committed.

But it`s interesting question, one that`s all the more relevant now that the obstruction of justice inquiry into the current president is reaching a critical mass. We`ve had presidential impeachment and pardons but never in the history of this country has a sitting president of the United States been criminally indicted.

So, can a sitting president be charged with a crime? And if so, what would that look like?

Joining us now is Nick Ackerman. He was a former assistant special Watergate prosecutor under Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski.


REID: Nick Ackerman, so you worked for both of them.


REID: So, you just kept on working.

ACKERMAN: We just kept going. In fact, the next day, after the Saturday night massacre, just to let people in the White House know we were still open for business, I was making calls and keeping appointments, and we all did that.

REID: You were telling me that you were in the front row of that announcement.

ACKERMAN: There`s also I think the group of the staff, you saw me coming out. I looked a lot different. I had a lot more hair.

REID: You were there.

ACKERMAN: I was a lot younger.

REID: So, all right, so let`s revisit this question. So, apparently, in the case of Watergate. it never got to that. But the determination was that Nixon could in theory have been indicted for crimes.

Fast forward to 1998 and the impeachment against Bill Clinton or the impeachment Bill Clinton, Ken Starr writes a memo on May 13, 1998, in which she said, it is proper constitutional and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of and are contrary to the president`s official duties. In this country, no one, even President Clinton is above the law. So, do you concur with those findings?

ACKERMAN: I think that`s right, but you`re also -- you`ve got a Justice Department regulation that wouldn`t permit the prosecutors to do that. But --

REID: What is that regulation?

ACKERMAN: Well, it`s a regulation in a department. I mean, it`s a department practice that they are not going to indict a sitting president.

REID: So, a grand jury could indict the president, but the Justice Department would not go forward with it.

ACKERMAN: Except the Justice Department recommends indictment, so it`s not like the grand jury is going to do it on their own.

REID: Right.

ACKERMAN: But if they did, I mean, then you would have an argument in court by the president, saying he`s a sitting president, his time would be taken up to a great extent, having to sit through pretrial proceedings, having to sit through a criminal trial, and that it should wait until he finishes his term of office or is impeached. I mean, that`s kind of the practical issue.

But the legal issue is really not decided. I mean, the bottom line legal issue is, the president is not above the law. He is not King George. In 1776, we made a determination that we were going to be run by a Constitution and by laws. We did something pretty radical at that point, we got rid of the king.

And so, we have checks and balances and the president has to provide evidence, as he`s going to be required --

REID: Well, let me stop right there because I think one of the things that people have been concerned about is Donald Trump is a norm breaker. He doesn`t agree that he has to abide by a lot of these rules and these norms. What if let`s say a subpoena is issued to President Donald J. Trump, that he has to produce evidence and information for the special prosecutor and he simply says no.

ACKERMAN: Then the prosecutor will go into court and he`ll be directed to produce it. I`m sure if this goes this Supreme Court, under U.S. v. Nixon, he`s not going to have any choice but to provide evidence.

REID: Could Donald Trump evade all of this by pardoning himself?

ACKERMAN: I don`t think that would work. In fact, I don`t think the pardon power extends to the point where if you have a conflict of interest, whether you pardon your relatives, your son-in-law, your daughter, whoever it is in yourself, I just don`t think any court would say that the pardon power is included. There is such a body of law that has grown up over the years about conflict of interest, that I just don`t think the Supreme Court wouldn`t apply that to a case where someone was so blatantly misusing the pardon.

REID: Wait, are you saying that Donald Trump could be prevented by court from pardoning Jared Kushner or his son?

ACKERMAN: Sure, I mean under Article III Section III of the U.S. Constitution, the president has to abide by and execute faithfully the laws of the United States. That doesn`t mean he can go out there and use them for his own purposes to evade the law and to put himself above the law and I think there`d be a pretty strong argument that any such pardon would not be enforceable. We`ve never had this happen before.

REID: Yes, yes. And we`ve also never tested whether or not all of that would hold up in front of the Supreme Court, in which Donald Trump named it the person who gives Republicans a 5-4 majority. So, that`s another thing.

ACKERMAN: Yes, but don`t forget, the Supreme Court in Nixon was 9-zip, forcing him to turn over those tapes.

REID: The plot thickens.

Nick Ackerman, former assistant special Watergate prosecutor, thank you so much.

ACKERMAN: Thank you.

REID: All right, we have a lot more to get to on this very busy Friday night. Stay with us.


REID: -- bid for president in the summer of 2015, Donald Trump brought the media to his northern Virginia golf course where he bragged about all the top officials in Washington who were members.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Golf is doing really well. I`ll tell you, golf -- I mean, we`re in high-end. And I will tell you, at the high end, golf it`s very hard to get into the really good clubs. We had many people in Washington, as you know, our top top officials of government.


REID: One top top official who was not a member at the time was special counsel Robert Mueller. According to the White House, back in 2011, Mueller who was then FBI director resigned his membership at Trump`s Virginia golf club after getting into a dispute over membership fees.

"The Washington Post" reports it was hardly a dispute at all. Mueller reportedly requested a refund in accordance with club rules and never heard back.

And he`s not alone. Last year, a Florida judge ordered Trump to pay over $5 million to former members in a case over disputed membership fees at his Florida course. In the latest "New York Times" blockbuster, the paper reported that Trump reportedly ordered Mueller fired last June. One of the president`s rationales for firing him was Mueller supposed conflict of interest regarding this fight over those membership fees seven years ago. That claim has since been met with widespread ridicule.

But if you`re talking Trump golf there seem to be plenty of investigative avenues for Mueller to look into and that is next.


REID: In 2012, during an interview with Latvian TV, Donald Trump Jr. bragged that the year before, in 2011, the Trump Organization had explored building golf courses in Russia. But what about Russian investment in Trump golf properties?

The prospect of whether any illicit Russian money was used to fund Trump golf properties in Scotland and Ireland was raised this past November by Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS. He testified to Congress that Trump`s massive investments in golf courses at a time when banks would not loan him money had always been a mystery to him.

Quote: So we were able to get the financial statements and they don`t on their face show Russian involvement. But what they do show is enormous amounts of capital flowing into these projects from unknown sources. At least on paper, it says it`s from the Trump Organization, but it`s hundreds of millions of dollars and these golf courses are just, you know, they`re sinks. They don`t actually make any money.

Quote: There`s good reason to believe he would have had to have outside financial support for these things.

And it`s true, Trump`s courses in Scotland and Ireland, the only ones for which in detailed financial information is available show huge losses. Trump`s Doonbeg course in Ireland lost millions over the past two years, while in Scotland, Trump has poured nearly $200 million into his two courses without either of them turning a profit.

So, where did that investment money come from?

On a trip to Scotland during the campaign, candidate Trump said he paid in straight cash.


TRUMP: The hotel is -- I didn`t even put a mortgage on. We have no debt, no financing, no anything, and I wanted to do that with Turnberry. I don`t want to have any financing on Turnberry because it`s so special. So, I just did this out of cash flow, and we just have we have an absolutely zero debt property.


REID: I just did this out of cash flow, zero debt.

As Glenn Simpson said, there was no direct evidence that came from Russia. Well, today we reached out to the Trump Organization for comment about Glenn Simpson`s allegations. They responded in part: quote, the Scotland and Ireland projects were purchased and developed with funds derived from the Trump Organization`s normal business operations over the course of more than a decade. Given Mr. Simpson`s history of making false and unverified claims, it`s shocking yet not surprising that the media continues to report on his allegations as anything but fiction.

And maybe you could talk it up to pure fiction, though, of course, there is the awkward and inconvenient fact that the president`s second son Eric told a golf journalist in 2013 that, oh, yes, all the money came from Russia a story the golf journalist James Dodson recounted last year.


JAMES DODSON, GOLF JOURNALIST: When I first met him, I asked him how he was -- you know, this is the journalist in me. I said, what are you using to pay for these courses? And he just sort of tossed off that he had access to a hundred million dollars.

HOST: A hundred million dollars?

DODSON: So when I got in the cart with Eric, as we were setting off, I said, Eric, who`s funding -- I know no banks because of the recession, the great recession have touched a golf course, you know, no one`s funding any kind of golf construction, it`s dead in the water the last four or five years.

And this is what he said, he said, well, we don`t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia. I said, really? He said, oh, yes, we`ve got some guys that really, really love golf and they`ve really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.


REID: So after that interview in May, Eric Trump denied those comments, calling them categorically untrue. He said, we have zero ties to Russian investors.

But that journalist stands by his story.

We know that Robert Mueller is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump`s businesses. It seems like Trump golf wouldn`t be the worst place to start.

Watch this space.


TRUMP: Golf is doing really well. I`ll tell you what, golf at the end that I`m in, I mean, we`re very high end golf.



REID: -- these under headlines you never thought you would see in "The Wall Street Journal" and they all happened just within the last few weeks. Trump lawyer arranged $130,000 payment for adult film star`s silence. Trump lawyer used private company pseudonyms to pay porn star Stormy Daniels. The president and the porn star it`s enough to make a stop stockbroker blush.

But that is just the way the news is these days, especially when it comes to covering the current president of the United States. And today, "The Wall Street Journal" has dropped another explosive but important report this time about another person within the president`s orbit concerning allegations made against this person by dozens of former employees about his sexual misconduct.

That person is Las Vegas billionaire Steve Wynn, known for building some of the most iconic casinos along the Vegas Strip. There are a couple of important things to note about this story. First, there`s just the sheer magnitude of the reporting that went into publishing it. "Wall Street Journal" reporters reached out to 150 people who work or have worked for Steve Wynn. In the end, quote, dozens of people "The Wall Street Journal" interviewed told of behavior that cumulatively would amount to a decade`s long pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Wynn. The allegations of misconduct range from suggestive comments to demands for sexual favors by subordinates, including some very vulnerable -- people in very vulnerable jobs.

In one alleged incident outlined by "The Wall Street Journal", Wynn summoned a manicurist to his office and then demanded she have sex with him until she finally did. "The Wall Street Journal" reports that Steve Wynn later settled with the manicurist for a whopping $7.5 million. "The Wall Street Journal" also reports a Steve Wynn allegedly exposed himself on numerous occasions to a massage therapist who worked for one of his spas, before he instructed her to perform a sex act on him.

Mr. Wynn has denied the allegations made in "The Wall Street Journal", telling the paper that, quote, the idea that I`ve ever assaulted any woman is preposterous. And Wynn Resorts said they have never feel that any complaints about Steve Wynn on the company`s anonymous hotline.

Nevertheless, after that report was published this morning, Wynn`s casino company shares tanked. The market value of Wynn Resorts dropped by over $2 billion. Now, the Massachusetts gaming regulator has opened a review of Wynn Resorts.

So, this is a pretty big fast-moving news story in the business world, but it also has widespread political implications. Steve Wynn is already a famous billionaire casino magnate and a one-time rival-turned-friend to the current president.

But he`s also the finance chair for the Republican Party and he has a bit of a weird pick for the RNC. Historically, Steve Wynn has made donations to both Republican and Democratic organizations. But now, he`s a prolific Republican donor. In 2016, he donated $833,000 to Republican joint fundraising committees and as RNC finance chair, he`s supposed to lead the party`s fundraising for house and Senate candidates in the midterm elections this fall.

And Republicans need that to be a success because right now, they have only a razor-thin majority in the Senate and are facing the threat of a major blue wave according to the polls. But as fact moving as the story has become in the business world, the RNC has yet to comment on the allegations made against their finance chair and their big winter meeting is taking place next week in Washington, D.C. So, is Steve Wynn still invited? Is the RNC going to keep Steve Wynn in charge of raising all that cash that they`re going to need for House and Republican Senate candidates? Not to mention the fact that Steve Wynn`s home state Senator Dean Heller is up for re-election this year and he`s one of the Senate`s most vulnerable Republicans right now. Democrats think they can flip his seat.

Steve Wynn and his wife have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Dean Heller over the years, so what happens to his campaign and to the Republican Party`s slim majority if Steve Wynn is pushed out of his position of power within the RNC?

Joining us now is Asawin Suebsaeng, "The Daily Beast" White House reporter who`s writing today about the RNC staying silent on the Wynn allegations.

So, Asawin, let me just confirm that as of now, they still have not commented on these allegations? No one at the RNC?

ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: As far as I know, unless MSNBC or NBC News has some statement or comment, I do not. And we`ve been trying to get this out of them all day now. But as far as I know, they have not commented on this, which would be even at least a little bit less conspicuous than it is now if they hadn`t gone all in after the immediate aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, and hitting Democrats and the DNC as they should have for the Harvey Weinstein money they`ve gotten over the years.

Now, Harvey Weinstein donated significantly less to the DNC than Steve Wynn did to the RNC. So, it stands to reason that if -- and this is a gigantic big glaring pulsating if -- the Republican Party and the RNC wanted to be intellectually or ethically consistent here, that they would themselves immediately come out with a statement that this is beyond the pale for us, these allegations, these sexual assault and misconduct allegations, and we would like to sever our relationship with Steve Wynn and give back all the money that he is lavished upon us and our candidates and various campaigns. But they have not done that.

REID: Right. Just in 2016, Steve Wynn gave over $1.2 million, according to open secret Republicans, and just to also by way of sort of contrast, John Ralston was tweeting earlier today that he`s giving about $200,000 in the past to the Nevada Democratic Party in 2014.


REID: So, he`s giving to Democrats are pales in comparison.

Let`s talk a little bit about Dean Heller, because Dean Heller I would presume is a very big recipient of that money. How much of a relationship is there and how much pressure do you think Dean Heller is going to come under to sort of move away from Steve Wynn or sever his ties?

SUEBSAENG: Well I don`t have the numbers in front of me regarding Steve Wynn and Dean Heller, but Republicans and they`re on many -- I mean, my God, Steve Wynn is the finance chair of the RNC, that`s no small thing. That is a much bigger role in the Republican Party, the Steve Wynn has than Harvey Weinstein had officially in the Democratic Party.

But Republicans who have a significant financial and political and personal ties to Steve Wynn including the current president of the United States, President Donald Trump, should be asked and have their feet held to the fire regarding their ties to this guy. And if their position is that, oh, these are just sexual misconduct allegations and we don`t need to sever any ties or give back any money until all of this plays out in a legal setting, well, then that begs the question, why didn`t you treat the Democrats and Harvey Weinstein with the same level of benefit of the doubt. It almost seems as if the GOP is acting kind of cynically here and does not actually care about sexual abuse of women.

REID: Well, the president of the United States and the titular head of the Republican Party does happen to have quite a few allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against him that are hanging out there. So, maybe that`s part of the problem.

Asawin Suebsaeng, "Daily Beast" White House reporter, thank you very much.

SUEBSAENG: Thank you so much for having me.

REID: Thank you.

OK. One more story to get to hear tonight about a curse one Democrat may be hoping to break. Stay with us.



BILL CLINTON, THEN-ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: We have just heard the president of the United States address our nation. And, by the way, Mr. President, happy birthday tonight.


REID: Got to love an infomercial. That was then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton hosting the Democratic response to President Reagan`s State of the Union. That 1985 infomercial is right up there with some of the most famous or infamous State of the Union responses of all time.

In 2009, it was then rising star, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.


THEN-GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Good evening and happy Mardi Gras.


REID: In 2013, it was Beltway media favorite, Republican Marco Rubio, with his own version of his Watergate, bottle of Watergate that is.

So be chosen to deliver the response of the State of the Union can put a real damper on a politician`s stardom. But this year could be a little bit different. On Tuesday, after Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union Address, the Democrat response will be delivered by someone whose name might ring a bell, and that is by design. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, the three-term congressman from Massachusetts.

His great uncles were President John F. Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy. His grandfather was Robert F. Kennedy. At the time, he was one of the great hopes of the Democratic Party and the nation. Bobby Kennedy was killed two months and two days after that other great national hope, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

So, sending Bobby Kennedy`s grandson to deliver the Democratic response on Tuesday could harken back to early 1968 when for Democrats, everything seemed possible.

So, can this Kennedy who`s very name evoke so much history and hope harness that nostalgia and break the curse of State of the Union rebuttal? Watch this space.

That does it for us tonight. Rachel will be back on Monday.

I`ll see you in a few hours on "A.M. JOY" at 10:00 Eastern. My guests tomorrow include Chelsea Handler and the one and only Lawrence O`Donnell.


Good evening, Lawrence.



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