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Trump expected to approve release of Nunes memo. TRANSCRIPT: 2/1/2018, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Rebecca Ballhaus, Jim Himes

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: February 1, 2018 Guest: Rebecca Ballhaus, Jim Himes

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.

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

It`s been a big Thursday and Thursday night of news. I`m glad you`re here tonight.

So, there are four Trump campaign officials who have been criminally charged by Robert Mueller`s team of prosecutors in the special counsel`s office. Two of the four have pled guilty and are now cooperating witnesses, helping the prosecution. And the other two have pled not guilty, and they`re due to go to trial.

Now, a few days ago, there were some intriguing reporting that suggested that one of those last two, one of those last two is expected to go to trial might be jumping sides. That Robert Mueller`s team might actually be able -- might be about to flip a third cooperating witness in addition to George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn who he`s already got. This intriguing reporting the other day suggested that the new cooperating witness for Mueller`s team might be Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates.

An eagle-eyed CNN legal correspondent noticed a new lawyer, a famous Washington lawyer repeatedly appearing at Robert Mueller`s offices, apparently to talk to Mueller`s team about Rick Gates. Now, this is important and interesting for a few reasons.

If Mueller is about to get Rick Gates as a cooperating witness, that could be a really big deal. Rick Gates was Manafort`s business partner for years, including in his business dealings with Putin-linked oligarchs and politicians. Rick Gates was Trump`s deputy campaign manager. He stayed on the campaign in a leadership role even after Paul Manafort himself got pushed out because of his Russia ties. Rick Gates was in the transition. He was deputy chair of the inauguration. He was seen frequently at the Trump White House during the early days of the administration, he helped start a pro-Trump group where lots of campaign people went after the election.

He is a through-line. He is a potential gold mine if, in fact, he is flipping to help the Mueller prosecution. So, that`s one thing that makes that reporting about Gates potentially becoming a cooperating witness really interesting reporting. But then there was also just the intrigue about it.

So, there`s this new, very famous new white-collared defense lawyer apparently working on Rick Gates` behalf, apparently negotiating something about Gates` case at Mueller`s offices in D.C., but he has never been announced as one of Gates` lawyers. His name doesn`t show up anywhere, listing him as one of Gates` lawyers. In court so far, Gates has had a whole other legal team that was representing him. What about them?

Well, tonight, all of those lawyers for Rick Gates just quit. In a very short court filing, the three lawyers for Trump deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, who have been representing him in court all along since he has been charged, all three of them announced that they are withdrawing from representing him. Why are they withdrawing from representing Rick Gates?

Quote, for the reasons set forth in Exhibit 1, which is the subject of a motion to be filed under seal.

We`re not allowed to know why they`re withdrawing. Sealed. In the movie, this is one of the exciting parts. So, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop on that.

Meanwhile, I should tell you tonight we`ve got our own mini scoop coming up in a couple of minutes on something important that`s going on with the Trump legal defense. This is something nobody else has reported, but we got it tonight and that is coming up in just a minute.

Here is where we start tonight, though. Chuck Schumer, he is, of course, is a leader of the Democrats in the Senate. He`s very familiar figure. He`s been around in the U.S. Senate since the dinosaurs roamed the earth. But because of that, it`s easy to forget that this is actually the first session of Congress for which Chuck Schumer is the Democratic leader.

Before him for 12 years, the Democratic leader in the Senate was Harry Reid. Harry Reid retired from the Senate after the 2016 elections. But, you know, we knew for a long time in advance that he was going to retire, that he was going to leave the Senate. We knew as early as the spring of 2015. So, that was a really long lead time for him to give, where he`d still be around but we knew he wasn`t going to be standing for re-election. He wasn`t still going to be in the Senate after the 2016 elections.

That turned out to be very valuable time, though. There`s a sort of magic pixie dust that alights on members of Congress when they announce they`re retiring, when they know they`re not going to stand for re-election, they`re not going to have to face voters again, but they`re still there for the time being, serving out their last term. That can be kind of a magic time, right?

Knowing that this is their last hoorah, they have a salutary effect on members of Congress. It sometimes makes them willing to speak hard truths. It sometimes makes them more willing to rock the boat. And right before the presidential election in 2016, in October of 2016, Harry Reid, knowing he`s not coming back to the Senate, knowing he`s in his last days, he basically erupted.

He put himself out there with the kind of thing you only expect to see from a lawmaker who had to answer to nobody, who knew he was on his way out. He was going to say his piece, no matter what. In October 2016, right before the election, Harry Reid sent this letter to the FBI. And it went off like a roman candle.

Dear Director Comey, in my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it`s become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers and the Russian government, a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this explosive information.

Now at the time, that letter was seen as a very controversial thing, even a wacky thing for Harry Reid to have done. October 30th, right before the election. But we now know, at least in part, that what he was talking about in that letter, was this guy.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Did you meet Sergey Kislyak in Cleveland? Did you talk to him?

CARTER PAGE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I`m not going to deny that I talked to him.

HAYES: So you did talk to him?

PAGE: Although I will say -- I will say that I never met him anywhere outside of Cleveland, let`s just say that much.

HAYES: The only time that you met him was in Cleveland?

PAGE: I may have met him, possibly, might have been in Cleveland.


MADDOW: Speaking of wacky, you know, we spend a lot of time on the show trying to document and keep track of the massive turnover in the Trump administration. In their one year in office, they have cycled through more senior officials than any other modern presidency. They`re throwing people out of high-ranking positions at more than triple the rate of the Obama administration at this time, right?

And that`s an unusual thing about the Trump administration, but that fact about the Trump administration was foreshadowed on the campaign, where they had the same kind of turnover, even at the highest levels of the campaign. They went through people. No other presidential campaign had a Corey Lewandowski, and then a Paul Manafort, and then a Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway all running the campaign.

But it wasn`t just right at the very top. In September before the election, it was sort of a mini kerfuffle. I don`t even know if it counts as a scandal. What counts as a scandal anymore?

There was -- there was a happening September before the campaign, where the Trump campaign distanced itself from one of its own advisers. They tried to pretend that they had never known this guy. He had never been part of the campaign.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: He`s not part of our national security or foreign policy briefings. We have a number of people, fabulous people, men and women as part of our national security foreign policy and foreign policy team and he`s not among them.


MADDOW: He`s not among them. He`s definitely -- he is not -- who said he was a foreign policy adviser to us? Who told you that?

Kellyanne Conway in September before the election, denying there had ever been a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign named Carter Page. Parter cage, who, what?

Hope Hicks at the same time said the same thing. She said Carter Page was just an informal adviser. He certainly doesn`t speak for the Trump campaign. Jason Miller was a Trump campaign spokesman at the time, one of the people who has since been thrown off the carousel. He said at the time Carter Page has no role in the campaign. This is despite the fact that now President Trump had, himself, announced Carter Page as one of Trump`s top foreign advisers. Basically they`re trying to disappear him.

Jason Miller said, quote, we are not aware of any of his activities, past or present. We`re not even aware if he`s a real boy. Can you prove it? Who? The reason they tried to disappear him, the reason they pretended, before the election, that they had definitely never met this guy, he had definitely never been announced by Donald Trump at a "Washington Post" editorial meeting as one of Trump`s top five foreign policy advisers -- the reason they tried to pretend that didn`t happen is because Carter Page became a problem. He had this big, obvious, Russia problem.

In 2013, we now know, and the FBI has always known, that he was targeted by a Russian spy ring operating in New York City. There was a criminal complaint filed in court about that Russian spy ring, two of the Russian spies with famously caught on a wiretap describing Carter Page as, sadly, an idiot, but did say that they were the liked he was so enthusiastic. These were spies who were apparently working on sanctions issues. They were trying to get secret intel or at least native American insight into what sort of sanctions Russia might expect from the United States in the future.

So, in their efforts to collect economic intelligence in the United States, they targeted Americans to try to make them into Russian assets and they targeted Carter Page and Carter Page was, according to the FBI, very happy to meet with them and to give them information and to give them documents. The FBI was monitoring the activities of that spy ring. In the course of their investigation of that spy ring, FBI counter intelligence agents paid Carter Page a personal visit to talk to him about those friendly Russians he had been spending all this time with, and to whom he had been giving information.

The FBI was monitoring that spy ring. They monitored him for a couple of years, watching them operate. In 2015, they busted it up, made their arrests. Members of the spy ring, including the ones who had been meeting with Carter Page, who`ve been describing him as an idiot, they named those Russians as agents of the SBR, Russian foreign intelligence agency. Six months after that spy ring that ensnared Carter Page, six months after it got busted up, arrests and announced indictment by the FBI, six months later, Carter Page joined the Donald Trump for president campaign.

January 2016, he started meeting with the campaign in March. That was when Donald Trump announced him, by name, as one of his five foreign policy advisers for his presidential campaign. He made that announcement at an editorial meeting with "The Washington Post". That was in March.

In July, now as an announced senior foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump, Carter Page took a trip to Moscow. And he gave what was basically an anti- U.S., pro-Vladimir Putin speech in Moscow at a Putin-connected university. He denounced U.S. sanctions on Russia.

He would later admit that while he was there, he met with high-ranking Russian officials, including the deputy prime minister of Russia, as well as at least one official from the Russian gas company Rosneft. He later admitted that he had those meetings when he went to Moscow that July, although he had initially denied them.

That kind of visit to Moscow, let alone that kind of speech in Moscow would tend to attract attention from U.S. counterintelligence, right? In the case of Carter Page`s trip to Moscow in July 2016 for those meetings and for that speech, he reportedly attracted attention from U.S. embassy officials in Russia and that, in turn, renewed U.S. counterintelligence interest in him. And I say renewed because this was only a couple years out from his time meeting with FBI counterintelligence officials about his involvement in a Russian spy ring here in the United States.

So, summer of 2016, a new counterintelligence investigation into Carter Page was apparently opened. That eventually included the FBI presenting evidence to a judge of what they said was their reasonable belief that he was acting as a witting agent of a foreign power. The initial FISA warrant on Carter Page was obtained, by some accounts, in the summer of 2016, in other accounts in the fall of 2016.

I don`t have any independent way to confirm either of those. So we`re not exactly sure. But it seems clear that a FISA warrant on Carter Page was approved before the election in 2016. We also now know that by the time that warrant was issued, U.S. intelligence officials were already briefing high-ranking members of Congress about Carter Page. U.S. counterintelligence officials were briefing high-ranking members of Congress about counterintelligence concerns specific to this guy, Carter Page.

Michael Isikoff was first to report it in September 2016 for Yahoo News. It was before the presidential election. Quote, U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials, including talks about the possible lifting of economic sanctions if the Republican nominee becomes president.

The activities of Trump adviser Carter Page have been discussed with senior members of Congress during recent briefings about suspected efforts by Moscow to influence the presidential election. After one of those briefings, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wrote FBI Director James Comey, citing reports of meetings between a Trump adviser, reference to Page, and high-ranking sanctioned individuals in Moscow over the summer. He cited them as evidence of significant and disturbing ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Some of those briefed were taken aback when they learned about Page`s contacts in Moscow, viewing them as backchannel to the Russians that could undercut U.S. foreign policy. U.S. officials in the briefings indicated that intelligence reports about Page`s talks with senior Russian officials close to Putin were being actively monitored and investigated. A senior law enforcement official did not dispute that characterization when asked for comment, quote, it`s on our radar screen, said the official about Page`s contacts with Russian officials, it`s being looked at.

So, Michael Isikoff reporting September 2016, just a few weeks before the presidential election in November 2016. And with these reports about Carter Page`s ties to Russia, contacts he has been sort of denying, counterintelligence officials in the United States, briefing high levels members of Congress on the counterintelligence concerns about this guy.

Finally, the Trump campaign starts to disavow him. Reid had sent a warning letter in August. He sent that explosive follow-up warning letter in late October. There were these public reports which had been subsequently confirmed that U.S. intelligence agencies were actively monitoring him, including surveillance of him apparently approved by a judge in a FISA warrant. That`s all going on in fall before the election. The Trump campaign is like, we don`t know this guy!

Then the election happens. Donald Trump gets elected and what does Carter Page do to celebrate? He flies back to Moscow. This was the headline in the "New York Times" December 8th. Quote, Carter Page, ex-Trump adviser with Russian ties visits Moscow. Lovely in December.

Page would later admit on that trip, right after the election, he again met with some of the same Russian government and Rosneft officials that he had met with before. Continuing scrutiny of Carter Page`s ties to the Russian government meant that even during the presidential transition, the soon-to- be Trump administration still had to go out of their way to disavow him, to pretend like he had never been announced as one of Trump`s five foreign policy advisers.


SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign.


MADDOW: That was January 2017 before the inauguration.

And, you know, we can piece together from the timing that that is probably around the time when the FISA surveillance warrant on Carter Page was being renewed. FISA warrants have to be renewed every 90 days. In order to renew them, U.S. investigators, law enforcement -- they have to show a judge that there has been continued production of useful intelligence from the existing warrant. They have to show that there`s been continuing or even fresh indications that the target of the warrant is, in fact, acting as a knowing agent of a foreign power.

So, that FISA warrant for Carter Page was initially granted in either the summer or the fall. It`s hard for us to tell. We know that it was renewed multiple times. We think probably one of the times it was renewed was in January, right after Carter Page took his post election trip to Moscow and Sean Spicer walked up to that podium and said Donald Trump definitely doesn`t know him.

And we now know that in the spring of 2017, after the inauguration, once the Trump administration was sworn in, the FBI went back to the judge, went back to the FISA court judge again, with whatever evidence they had, that this warrant was continuing to be productive, there was reason to renew it again. And the judge okayed it. The judge signed off on that warrant in the spring. It was either the third time or the fourth time that a judge had looked at the evidence about Carter Page and signed off on continuing surveillance of him as a potential foreign agent.

And that story, that`s what this dumb memo is all about. This memo you`ve been hearing so much about, the memo that is apparently going to be released tomorrow over the vehement objections of the Justice Department and FBI because it contains classified information about how FISA court works, and how FISA court warrants are adjudicated and what kind of work the government does on targets that they believe are foreign agents, that memo that has been the focus of so much media attention and so much excitement on the right over the past few weeks, what`s that memo about?

That memo is a House Republican effort to try to make you believe that either the third or fourth renewal of that surveillance warrant against Carter Page is a terrible scandal. How could anybody approve that? There are multiple reports that Donald Trump believes this memo is what he needs to end the Mueller investigation, because this memo will make America believe that only terrible, like, what, Clinton stooges would support a third or fourth renewal of a foreign agent surveillance warrant on the guy who`s been on the FBI`s counter intelligence radar since at least 2013 when he played a starring role as the enthusiastic idiot in a convicted Russian spy ring in New York who then later turned up multiple times in Moscow denouncing the United States, praising Vladimir Putin and trying to get Russian business deals for himself with Russian state-run companies, while meeting with Russian government officials.

If Russian intelligence mounted its operation against our presidential campaign in part because they wanted to try to undo U.S. sanctions on Russia, this is the guy from the Trump campaign who says that during the campaign, yes, he was in Moscow, meeting with high-ranking government officials about getting rid of U.S. sanctions on Russia.

If it is a scandal that that guy would have a surveillance warrant against him renewed, then, yes, this memo tomorrow from house Republicans is going to blow your socks off. Of all the ways they have tried to undermine or just block the Mueller investigation, the story of this guy? This guy is not the guy you think they would try to hang that whole strategy on.


MADDOW: If you have not been reading "The Wall Street Journal" today, you might want to get on the stick. From morning until night, really, right through just about an hour or so ago, they have just been a battering ram of news today. One of the articles that they broke today pieced together the trail that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page left for intelligence agents when it came to his dealings with Russia.

The surveillance warrant against Carter Page, specifically its renewal during the Trump administration during the spring of 2017 is reportedly the subject of this House Republican memo due to be released tomorrow, which the president reportedly believes will be so scandalous it will free him from the Russia investigation once and for all.

Joining us now, one of the reporters from "The Wall Street journal" who broke this news today, Rebecca Ballhaus.

Ms. Ballhaus, thanks for joining us. Congratulations on this.


MADDOW: So, you report that the Trump campaign says it was unaware at the time they hired Carter Page for the campaign that he had already, by that point, had past dealings with U.S. counterintelligence over his dealings with Russia. Is this a new detail that we`re learning from the Trump campaign folks?

BALLHAUS: This is a new detail. I think what`s important to remember about Carter Page is that he was someone who was brought on to the campaign at a time when they were under enormous amount of pressure to show who was advising the president or the candidate at that point on national security and foreign policy matters. So, Trump, in March of 2016, announced Carter Page, along with about five other people as the group that was, in fact, advising him on those matters.

But this was a group that we had been told over and over again since then was not vetted, had very little information researched about their background and really the campaign didn`t seem to look into whether there might be any suspect issues, such as past dealings with Russia. It`s also interesting to note that also in this group was George Papadopoulos who, of course, we know, pleaded guilty to investigators, to lying to FBI investigators about his contacts with Russia.

MADDOW: It is a remarkable ratio if have you five announced foreign policy advisers and one of them ends up pleading guilty and becoming a cooperating witness over lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia and the other ends up subject to a foreign intelligence surveillance warrant because of his ties with Russia. It was a weird list to begin with but that`s a very weird way -- that`s a high proportion of those advisers to end up sort of in the barrel on that specific subject.

Let me actually ask you about a timing issue that I don`t have clarity on. Do you, at "The Wall Street Journal," have clarity on when the surveillance warrants, these foreign agent surveillance warrants, FISA warrants for Carter Page were first applied for, when they initially went and got one for Carter Page?

BALLHAUS: Our reporting shows that that happened around October 2016. And what`s also interesting to note is that that was about a month after Carter Page had, in fact, left the Trump campaign because of these reports about his ties to Russia. So, I think in some of these allegations that Republicans are making that this FISA warrant began out of political motivations, trying to go after the Trump campaign, it`s interesting to note that he wasn`t even part of that effort anymore at that time.

MADDOW: And in terms of the timing, we know from Michael Isikoff`s reporting in 2016 that a counterintelligence investigation about Mr. Page was already open and that counterintelligence concerns about him were already being briefed to members of Congress. If your reporting is right that they didn`t get the FISA warrant until October, which is after those briefings to Congress had happened, that means it was just one tool that they used in what was, by then, an already ongoing and fairly ripe counterintelligence investigation of him.

I realize they`re going to try to problematize that third or fourth renewal of the FISA warrant tomorrow when they release this memo, but this timeline is illuminating.

Rebecca Ballhaus of "The Wall Street Journal" -- thank you very much for helping us understand your reporting tonight. Thanks for being here.

BALLHAUS: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: All right. We got a lot more to get to tonight including that little mini scoop we`ve got on Trump legal defense. We`ve got that exclusively here tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: -- nothing about Watergate, one thing that everybody knows for sure about the Saturday night massacre in Watergate, one thing that everybody knows is that it happened on a Saturday night, right?

This was "NBC Nightly News" on the Friday night right before the Saturday night massacre. It was a very suspenseful Friday nigh night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All day today, Washington waited for the president`s lawyers to take the next step in the great and historic case of the nine disputed secret White House tapes. Today was the deadline for the president to appeal to the Supreme Court a lower court ruling on the tapes, which went against him. But for a reason as yet unexplained, the president`s men have not filed the appeal.

Here is more from Carl Stern.

CARL STERN, NBC REPOTER: Because of late business connected with Supreme Court`s Friday conferences, the clerk of the court will be here until 9:00 tonight, giving the White House extra hours to meet the deadline. The president`s lawyers were in meetings all day but the two persons who seemed most likely to work out a deal, Attorney General Richardson and Special Prosecutor Cox, haven`t met for three days, increasing the prospect that the historic confrontation between the president and the courts will have to be resolved here.


MADDOW: That was the Friday night suspense, the night before the Saturday night massacre. It was a legal showdown. Everybody thought it was going to be settled at the Supreme Court.

Special prosecutor investigating Watergate, Archibald Cox, had subpoenaed tapes from the Oval Office. Nixon didn`t want to hand them over. And all that Friday into that Friday night, everybody was waiting on the Nixon White House to file their appeal at the court.

We`ll have the clerk here until 9:00 p.m. We`re waiting. We`re all waiting, expecting that appeal.

But then Nixon decided to do something else entirely. Nixon decided he had a genius plan that would keep the whole thing out of court and decide everything in his direction. We`re living that again. Hold that thought.


MADDOW: Senator John Stennis, who is a Democrat from Mississippi, who was elected to the Senate in 1947. He`s widely respected on both sides of the aisle, served in the Senate for a long time, more than 40 years. But in 1973, Senator Stennis got held up on the street. He got shot. And he almost died.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator John Stennis was shot in a Washington holdup a week ago. Early today, doctors became concerned over his recovery. They performed a 45-minute exploratory operation, but didn`t find what they thought was wrong. The hospital said that the operation made Senator Stennis` condition worse. The prognosis is now grave.


MADDOW: It was February 1973. Senator John Stennis got shot twice in a mugging outside his home in D.C. He almost died. But after a long recovery, he did eventually make his way back to the Senate.

NBC reporters noted at the time that he looked thin, he wasn`t walking as briskly as he used to. Senate John Stennis was also notoriously kind of deaf. Senator Ted Kennedy said once that John Stennis was, quote, known to be a man who was hard of hearing.

But just two months after his return to the Senate, after his near-death experience, Senator John Stennis, hard of hearing senator who just got back to work after being shot twice, and having an operation that made it worse, he got an important assignment related to Watergate from the White House, an assignment to review the Nixon Oval Office tapes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While special prosecutor Cox is getting ready to fight President Nixon`s plan to release summaries of the tapes, White House officials say some of those summaries have been prepared already. If he`s prepared to go ahead with his proposal, the president intends to have Senator John Stennis of Mississippi read the summaries and then go over the tapes themselves to verify the summaries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stennis s says he`s been promised a free hand, but he doesn`t get kno-how. He`ll go about his job.

SEN. JOHN STENNIS (D), MISSISSIPPI: Based on evidence I have, though, as of now, I think they are authentic. I have no reason to the contrary. If I am convinced it`s a fake in any way, I would quit the business. I wouldn`t want to be a party. I don`t believe, though, that these tapes are a fraud in their present condition. And -- but that`s a good point to raise. And that`s the way I feel about it.


MADDOW: That was October 1973. White House called up 72-year-old Senator John Stennis to help the president get out of a jam.

Special prosecutor investigating Watergate, Archibald Cox wanted the White House to turn over tapes from inside the Oval Office. The president refused to turn over those tapes. It started a legal fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court. But while Nixon and Cox were fighting about those tapes, the White House proposed a way off the standoff. Let`s just make a deal like gentlemen here.

Nixon said, I will not turn over the recordings to you, but I will turn over, in his own words he said, quote, a statement prepare bid me, personally, a full disclosure of everything contained in those tapes that has any bearing on Watergate.

So, Nixon wouldn`t turn over the tapes to the judge but would listen to them himself and then he would just tell us what was on them. He`d tell us for sure whether there was anything that incriminated him on those tapes, honest.

Now, who wouldn`t take a deal like that? Nixon had to know nobody would agree to that. So, his offer had one more component to it. The Stennis compromise. Yes, he, himself, would be writing up the summaries of anything relevant to Watergate on the tapes.

But the linchpin to his whole plan was John Stennis. They would have Senator Stennis read Nixon`s summaries of what was on the tapes and Senator Stennis alone would be allowed to listen to the tapes, to verify that the written statements of the tapes were accurate, and that would prove to everyone that there was definitely nothing hiding in those tapes that would incriminate Nixon. That`s how the country could be sure that Nixon wasn`t lying about whatever was on them.

And the whole thing is cuckoo, right? Instead of responding to the subpoena, giving the tapes over, we`ll play this elaborate game of telephone about what`s on the tapes and the guy on the other end of the telephone is a 72-year-old half dead hard of hearing guy who just got shot twice, the guy who`s famous for having to ask people to repeat things over and over again because he can`t hear what they`re saying, even in the course of normal business. He would be the authenticator of all the audio tapes. I`m sorry, what was that again?

That is the guy who they picked to be the one to listen to the Nixon tapes and make sure that Nixon`s summaries of the tapes were correct.

Special prosecutor Archibald Cox said, yes, no. No. And that`s why, on Saturday, Nixon ordered Archibald Cox to be fired. And his attorney general said no, I won`t fire him. Then he quit. Then the deputy attorney general said no, I won`t fire him. And then he quit.

And then, finally, the number three official in the Justice Department said, OK, I`ll fire him. T was the Saturday Night Massacre.

What led to the Saturday Night Massacre was this amazing gambit by the White House, right? Don`t hand over the tapes. Just provide what the president says is on the tapes. Sure, that will be fine. Yes. Sure.

The Trump legal team has already tried one version of this. On January 8th, which feels like ten years ago now, NBC was the first to report that the president`s legal team was in talks with special counsel Robert Mueller about negotiating for the president to be interviewed by Mueller for his Russia investigation.

The laugh out loud detail in that NBC News story was the part where one person familiar with the president`s legal strategy said one possibility of the president`s legal team liked the idea of would be to forego the president`s interview with Mueller all together, but instead they had something to offer. They would give Robert Mueller, quote, an affidavit signed by the president, affirming that he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

Sure. Well, who could possibly reject that offer? Why question him if he can just sign something that says, dear Robert, I`m totally innocent. Believe me. Love, the president.

Right? That should do it. Who could argue? They actually tried that. And now, it`s possible they are trying it again, a different version of that again.

We got Congressman Jim Himes from the Intelligence Committee here next. But as House Republicans appear ready to release their classified memo tomorrow, the one they say must be revealed because it will exonerate the White House, both the House Republicans who put their name on this and the White House are now refusing to answer questions as to whether or not this shocking memo exonerating the Trump White House was actually written by the Trump White House.

And why wouldn`t you trust the president to give you all of the information you need about what the president did and when he did it?

Congressman Jim Himes joins us next.


MADDOW: -- Democrat of Connecticut, he`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Himes, thanks very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate your time, sir.


MADDOW: We don`t know for sure if this is going to happen tomorrow, if the House Republicans are going to release this classified memo. But the president has been described in multiple news reports as anticipating that this classified memo release will provide him the pretense that he needs to fire the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein who is overseeing the Mueller investigation. Again, that`s multiple news reports. I don`t know if that`s true or not.

Are you expecting that?

HIMES: I would certainly hope that wouldn`t be the case. This memo is a transparent, political hit job. When it is released, if it is released, people like you and many other journalists and the people who are named, and the institutions that are named like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department, will have an opportunity to point out what a second-rate piece of work it is.

Now, individuals are named, I suppose could be used since it alleges bias at the Department of Justice and at the FBI. I suppose it could be used as a pretext to fire the deputy attorney general.

But, remember, this is the guy that the president hired, who wrote a memo a little unusual for a deputy attorney general justifying the firing of Jim Comey. He is a Republican. Firing Rosenstein cannot be done based on any sort of partisan or allegation of bias. It would be a pretty clear attempt to sabotage the investigation, the Department of Justice and FBI investigation. I would be a little shocked if that happened.

MADDOW: I feel like your argument there makes sense to me, makes sense to me as a legal matter even though I`m not a lawyer, just thinking about obstruction of justice and what I know about it and how these things get pursued. I do feel like the president and conservative media, pro-Trump conservative media are sort of locked in a bit of a folly adieu on this where they are talking to each other, in some cases literally. They have convinced one another that American will rise up against the Mueller investigation and indeed against the FBI and Justice Department when this information comes out and that will give the president all the backing he needs to do this without fear of repercussion.

That`s what I see happening on the right. And we won`t know until it happens. But as far as you know, is there a plan? Do you think there would be any response in Congress, for example, if the deputy attorney general is fired?

HIMES: Well, if that were the plan, it wasn`t executed flawlessly in as much as Speaker Ryan today and yesterday said this memo is not about the Mueller investigation. And he warned Republicans in the Congress not to confuse the allegations in the memo, which are allegations of bias towards the DOJ and the FBI, he explicitly warned them not to conflate this with the Mueller investigation and, in fact, said that the Mueller investigation must proceed.

Now does that mean that that`s what`s going to happen? No. This memo is very clearly the latest installment in a series of efforts that Chairman Nunes has been making since James Comey announced the existence of the Russia investigation and the question of whether there was collusion starting with the midnight run to the White House to get the allegations that Trump was being spied on, continuing with the allegations that Susan Rice and Samantha Powers amongst others were inappropriately unmasking Americans, all of which turned out to be complete baloney.

This is the next step and what`s going to happen if and when this memo is made public is that the American public is going to see it for the really shoddy work it is, even if they don`t get a chance to see the Democratic rebuttal of that memo.

MADDOW: Two questions on that, do you think there will be release of the Democratic memo rebutting it? And do you yet have any clarity, do you and other Democrats on the Intelligence Committee have any clarity as to whether or not the White House actually helped produce this memo?

HIMES: We don`t have clarity on the second question. And in fact, Congressman Quigley in the meeting this was presented to us out of the blue for the authorization to provide to other members of Congress, he asked the chairman precisely that question and the chairman refused to answer it. So, none of us really know.

If it were true, it wouldn`t be inconsistent with the chairman`s back and forth with the White House on this overall effort to cloud the waters around this investigation. But I do not know.

To answer your question about the Democratic memo, the Democratic memo is actually a 10-page memo going point by point through the Republican memo and pointing out how the timelines in the Republican memo don`t work out, pointing out that each allegation is at best cherry picked and at worst not at all indicative of the bias that the Republicans are trying to allege.

Now, what`s interesting is the president under this procedure for declassification, the president, just as he`s looking at the Republican memo would have to approve the release or would have the opportunity to object to the release of the Democratic memo. What do you think Donald Trump is going to do with a 10-page repudiation of the Republican memo?

MADDOW: I have a feeling that`s one thing no one will take a bet on.

Congressman Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, member of the Intelligence Committee, thank you for your time tonight, sir. Very helpful. Thanks.

HIMES: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. We`ve got one more story here tonight. As I mentioned earlier, a little bit of a mini-scoop about the president`s legal defense. This is exclusive. We`ve got it next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Found this today on the Office of Government Ethics Website. Check this out. It`s called the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust. You can see on Monday, the Office of Government Ethics weighed in on this and said they don`t approve or disapprove of legal defense funds but they said the ones in the papers would comply with the federal laws about how government workers can be paid and about gifts for them or their bosses.

This fund, the Patriot Legal Expense Fund is reportedly to help with legal fees incurred by employees, consultants, fund raisers or volunteers for the Trump campaign, Trump transition or Trump administration when it comes to the Russia investigation by the special counsel or committees in congress.

Aha, finally, we found it. We have reported this awkward truth about the Trump defense on the Russia investigation. One that created some weird incentives for people who found themselves caught up in those investigations. That is that the Trump campaign and the Republican Party initially spent hundreds of thousands of dollars paying the Russia-related legal fees for two people and two people only -- Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr.

Recognizing that was a little weird, the president`s lawyers announced months ago that the president planned to set up some kind of mechanism, using his own money to help staffers pay their bills, too. Ticklish proposition, though, right? How do you reconcile the boss, the president, dangling help with your legal bills while you the staffer consider how you`re going to handle questions from the special prosecutor about the boss who`s helping you with your legal bills?

A Trump lawyer told NBC News in late November that the future legal defense fund would be for the benefit of witnesses, staffers and campaign workers forced to incur extraordinary legal expenses merely because they were witnesses. It doesn`t include any indictees or current targets.

So, the fund would cover a broad swath of people but it would leave out indicted people like campaign deputy Rick Gates or Mike Flynn, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI. So, we got that information, that statement from a Trump lawyer just before Thanksgiving.

Since then, there`s been nothing. No more information. But today, we believe we found the legal defense fund for Trump staffers that we`ve been hearing about for a few months now. We believe we have found that it`s on its way.

This Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust looks like this might be how they`re going to do this. We are the first to report this, who exactly will get help from the Patriot Legal Defense Funds? We don`t know. None of the lawyers listed in these papers have responded to our questions yet. The papers do say money won`t be given out based on whether somebody`s involvement in the investigations was beneficial to the president. For example, as for people who are in trouble, quote, the manager shall avoid payments arising from the defense of any charge or indictment for dishonest, fraudulent or criminal activity until the manager determines and the manager saw with absolute discretion that the acts forming the basis of such charge or indictment were undertaken by the recipient on behalf of or directly in support of the campaign, the transition or administration in good faith and without knowledge that such acts were prohibited by law.

You can`t do what?

So they`ve left themselves some room to work on that one in terms of who might get their legal fees paid for. We asked campaign finance lawyer Craig Holman of Public Citizen whether the president himself could donate to this fund. Mr. Holman said, yes, the president in his reading may give to this. So maybe the Presidential Inaugural Committee which we believe that has tens of millions of dollars left over, maybe they could do so too.

That means this little scoop of ours also poses a quandary in terms of where the money comes from and where the money goes, right?

Here`s quandary numero dos. Trump campaign yesterday closed out the books on 2017, toting up the money the campaign got from donors and the people who bought the red hats with the campaign slogan on them. The campaign listed all that on their federal report, along with how much they spent and what they spent it on.

If you bought a red Make America Great Again hat, that was a campaign donation. You may or may not happy to know that roughly one out of every four dollars spent by the campaign last year, including your donation, went to legal fees. And we now know that includes large sums for law firms which happen to represent the campaign and various individuals in dealing with the Trump-Russia investigation.

"The New York Times" today notes a significant expense paid to the firm that so happens to represent the president`s long-time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in the Russia investigation. That firm got over $200,000 from the Trump campaign, donors money.

Now, there`s no way to know for sure what that money or any of the Trump campaign legal fees got used for and whether in fact it was related to the Russia investigation or whether it was campaign business. The Trump campaign apparently didn`t respond when asked whether they are covering Michael Cohen`s legal costs.

But this is a simple question. I didn`t know Michael Cohen was on the campaign. Is the Trump campaign paying Michael Cohen`s legal fees related to Russia? Is that what they`re doing with their campaign donors` money?

The Trump campaign should be able to answer that. So far, they`re not.

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


Good evening, Lawrence.