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GOP memo a dud. TRANSCRIPT: 2/2/2018, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Adam Schiff

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: February 2, 2018 Guest: 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Have a great weekend, my friend.

HAYES: You bet.

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

That`s it.

(LAUGHTER)

That`s all they`ve got. This is what all the hype was about for what is it, two weeks now they`ve been hyping this?

You know, I hyped that I had Donald Trump`s tax returns and then I clarified that I actually had two pages of Donald Trump`s tax returns for one hour before I actually released two pages of what actually were Donald Trump`s tax returns.

And for a year now, people have been telling me that was unconscionable hype about Donald Trump`s tax returns. But you know what? At least those actually were Donald Trump`s tax returns, even if they were boring in the end. Sorry.

This thing -- this was two weeks of this memo is going to end everything. This memo -- have you heard about the memo? Hashtag release the memo.

This memo will make Donald Trump innocent. This memo will put Robert Mueller in jail. It will abolish the FBI. The Justice Department will have to rename itself the Donald J. Trump and Family Private Security Task force.

I mean, I can`t believe this is it.

I don`t really believe in the whole cable news wars idea, I know people who work across the street at the Fox News Channel. I`ve got friends who work there. I think we`re all doing our own thing in our own way best we can. I wish everybody the best.

But oh my god, right? They have been hyping and hyping and huffing and puffing and working their audience up into a frenzy. For two solid weeks, they have literally built a right-wing public movement that this memo must be released because this memo will fix the Trump presidency. It will fix the Russia scandal for President Trump that will make the whole thing go away.

And apparently despite all of that, apparently, they either didn`t know or they didn`t notice that this thing they have been clamoring for and hyping for two solid weeks that they have built up this frenzy around, it actually disproves their whole point. I mean, at some point in the past year, they fixed on this strategy that that dossier that "BuzzFeed" published right after the election, January 2016, the Republicans and conservatives and conservative media focused on that -- fixated on the idea that maybe that dossier was something they could use to try to undercut the whole idea that there should have ever been a Russia investigation in the first place, right?

They promised the Fox News audience. They promised the country. They talked a big portion of the normal media into believing that they were about to shake the earth they were about to prove that the whole basis of the Russia investigation was that dossier. They never even planned to come up with a good argument against the content of the dossier. They didn`t think they would have to.

It was, you know, step one, say the dossier is bad. Step two, say the whole Russia investigation is based on the dossier. Step three was today, release the memo that proves step two, that proves that the dossier was the basis for the whole Russia investigation.

And then boom, you don`t need a step four because game`s over. Trump`s president for life and being a Democrat is illegal and if you don`t support Donald Trump, by definition, you`re a Democrat and your illegal, goodbye.

I mean that -- today was the big reveal, right? Today was step three. The memo that proves the whole Russia investigation is based on the dossier.

And then they released this memo which says in its final paragraph sort of distractedly while trying to make another point about specific FBI agents being bad people who have affairs, they let slip in the last paragraph of the dossier, last paragraph of the memo that oh by the way, the dossier didn`t actually lead to the Russia investigation.

The FBI was looking at a Trump campaign guy for his contacts with the Russians, that guy George Papadopoulos did actually end up pleading guilty to the FBI about lying about his contacts with the Russians. Papadopoulos things would start at the investigation, right?

They released this memo to prove that the dossier started everything. The memo says that dossier didn`t actually start anything, at which point everybody in America goes -- everybody else in America I guess goes, right, that`s what we`ve been saying.

But what happens now to all the hype over this thing at Fox News over the past couple of weeks? I mean, this was a lot of hype. What happens to the plan by the White House where the president was apparently led to release this thing not because he knew what was in it, not because he had even bothered to read it himself, but because he was watching Fox News segments about it and those Fox News segments were convincing him that this memo was the magic ticket that was going to be his get-out-of-jail-free card.

What happens to the president`s argument that this memo is all the justification that he needs to start removing the deputy attorney general or maybe even the FBI director or everybody else who might conceivably give him some path toward stopping the Mueller investigation?

Fox News apparently convinced the president that this memo is all he would need to be able to fire Rod Rosenstein, to be able to get rid of the Mueller investigation? By one report, to get Jeff Sessions to indict Robert Mueller. "Washington Post" reported this morning that the president was left alone with the memo for several hours so he could read it.

The memo is only three and a half pages long, and the font is not that small. And I know the president famously does not enjoy lots of reading but -- I mean several hours to read three and a half pages, there`s no reason to assume he had adequate time to get through all three and a half pages in several hours. I mean, maybe he didn`t get to the end, to the really bad part at the end.

So, after all of the hype, after all of the excitement, after all of the absolute fixation on this big reveal, this big revelatory moment today, I will admit to being shocked that this is what they released. It was -- it was it was just kind of like a sad trombone. We only bring that out for very special occasions.

But we did nevertheless get a landmark moment in American history with us today. We did get a public release of classified information pushed by House Republicans and okayed by the president of the United States apparently because he thought this was going to be good for him politically because Fox News told him it would be.

FISA warrants are classified. The whole FISA court process is a classified process. We`re not supposed to get any public information about the FISA court or FISA warrants. Public confirmation of specific warrants, confirmation of specific targets of FISA warrants, that`s -- we`re not supposed to get that.

But in this case, now, we`ve got that and so, now, we know thanks to this memo that on October 21st, 2016, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act FISA warrant was approved to start surveillance on Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

We then also learned from this classified memo today that it that warrant was renewed three times after its initial approval and that`s helpful information. Even though it`s information we`re really not supposed to have, it`s good to know. I was talking to a reporter friend of mine today in my office and we were both counting off on our fingers what those three renewals mean in terms of exactly when that means Carter Page was subject to this surveillance warrant right?

If it started in October 2016, they run for days, right? So, that would mean that it was renewed in November, December, January. And then if it ran for another 90 days, and it was renewed again for a second time. That would be in February, March, April.

And then if it ran for another 90 days, and it was renewed for a third time which is what the when most said today. That means it was renewed in July. And then it would run for another 90 days which would be August, September, October.

So, that means from October 2016 to October 2017, at least, Carter Page was being surveilled under a FISA warrant, which is the kind of thing we are never supposed to know, particularly for something that is an ongoing investigation. But now we`ve got that information because they released this classified information. From at least October `16 to October 2017, this Trump foreign policy adviser was under surveillance, thanks to a FISA warrant because he was believed to be either a foreign agent or at least a U.S. person who was in contact with a foreign intelligence service.

And it`s bizarre that we know that. It is bizarre that that has been declassified and given to the public. I mean, it`s handy to know for trying to piece together some of the timeline on this stuff. I mean, it`s handy to know if only because it makes clear that when Carter Page came to this studio in this building to do an interview with my friend Chris Hayes in October of last year, October 2017, based on the math and the number of fingers I have, that probably means he was still being surveilled under the FISA warrant at the time he did that interview.

And that interview here when he was here with Chris, that interview was nutty. All of Carter Pages interviews are a little nutty.

But he did say this one now very intriguing thing not really about his own case or about Donald Trump, but about House Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: In the interest of really getting the truth out there, because I think when the truth comes out, when Speaker Paul Ryan says the FISA warrant or the funny -- the details about the dodgy dossier and what happened and all those documents around that it`s going to be released, that`s what I`m really excited about. I think that the truth will set a lot of people free.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Because of the way he talks because of the way he behaves in interviews, everything Carter Page says seems a little fuzzy like a little where you going man? But what he just said there actually is what happened and he knew about it months in advance. This is months ago last October, Carter Page somehow knew that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan would green- light the release of classified information about what went into the FISA warrant for the surveillance of Carter Page.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAGE: When Speaker Paul Ryan says the FISA warrant or the -- the details about the dodgy dossier and what happened and all its documents around that it`s going to be released that`s what I`m really excited about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Paul Ryan`s going to green light the release of the information around your FISA warrant? I mean, it just sounded like another crazy thing that Carter Page said but that was months ago and that`s now what just happened so months ago there was apparently already a plan in the works that Carter Page knew about that involved Paul Ryan that they would try to use this warrant against Carter Page to make a public case, to try to turn that warrant somehow into some sort of public information that presumably would be used to turn the whole Russia investigation into a scandal.

And then what`s happened and they have put out their memo and it is such a bust it is so not what it was hoped to be. But I think it is worth being clear that this is something they`ve been trying to figure out a way to use for a very long time. Apparently that let`s release the classified information about what led to the warrant plan, apparently, that plan was in the works since at least last October when Carter Page blurted it out to Chris Hayes.

I think it`s also worth noting that even before that, last March, you remember the Obama wiretapped Trump Tower scandal remember that? March of last year, right at the start of his administration, Trump -- President Trump made that strange allegation. Terrible, just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. He said, I bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October.

Trump Tower was not wiretapped and President Obama was not tapping Donald Trump`s phones in October. But you know the FBI was in October wiretapping Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page. That is in October, October before the election, that is when they got the FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page. There was surveillance of Trump`s ex campaign aides starting in October.

But if that`s what was the truth behind that wooly effort to try to create some giant national security scandal around it, I mean, it -- I think it worked sort of for a couple of weeks while people were very upset about this allegation from the president that President Obama had had his wires tapped and everything and people tried to figure out what he was talking about it was very distracting. That lasted for a couple of weeks before everybody finally realized it was nonsense.

And then a couple weeks later, they tried to kind of re up it, right? Couple weeks after the Obama wiretap to me stuff, that same month, March 2017, it was Devin Nunes, breathing hard, sweating, summoning reporters, kind of visibly upset, saying he had received from a whistleblower terrible information about people from the Trump campaign being monitored in foreign surveillance this was such damning and terrible information he said. Sorry he had to go. He had to rush to the White House to brief the president on this disturbing revelation.

Well, that disturbing revelation we later learned was information that was actually provided to Devin Nunes from the White House in the first place. Was that all about Carter Page having the FISA warrant out on him as well? Is that what that was about, too?

I mean, what is this what is this all about? The Trump campaign did hire someone, lord knows why, who had no foreign policy profile, no national security profile and no political profile at all, but he was believed by the FBI to either be a witting foreign agent of Russia or at least a U.S. person who was in contact with a foreign intelligence agency. The FBI had had him on their radar for years. He had turned up as in a starring role, in a Russian spy ring that had been broken up involving a branch of VEB bank in New York City a few years earlier.

During the course of the Trump campaign, another Trump foreign policy adviser came to the attention of counterintelligence officials because of his contacts with Russian intelligence. So, the FBI was on that case. They were looking at these matters, not without cause it turns out. And as part of their investigation, they did get a FISA warrant on Carter Page in October 2016. We can now confirm that because they released classified information to the public about it, in order to make this big political point about it.

But they`ve been trying to make some big political point about this warrant on Carter Page for a long time. It seems like they`ve taken a few different cracks at it the existence of that warrant for Carter Page has been -- has been kicking around a lot. That itself is an unusual thing. You know FISA warrants and details about FISA warrants really don`t make it into public discussion very often.

I mean, we debate FISA and its controversies in the abstract but knowing about the target of a FISA warrant, especially an ongoing one, knowing about when the application was made and renewals and who it`s about why -- like this is stuff that really doesn`t leak to the press with any frequency at all. But this Carter Page one for whatever reason, it`s really been around. We`ve known about it. There`s been a ton of reporting about it. "Washington Post" was first to report on that warrant in April, then CNN got the story, then "The New York Times" got the story.

For some reason, people knew enough about this FISA warrant about Carter Page to be kibitzing about it, so much so that it got picked up in multiple news organizations. And it`s clear -- it`s been clear for a long time that Republicans and the Trump White House have wanted to try to make that thing into a scandal somehow it`s been clear for months Carter Page made that clear in the Chris Hayes interview back in October.

I think also, based on the timing, this may also be what they tried to turn into the Trump Tower wiretapping thing, and then Devin Nunes rushing to the White House thing, right? That may all just have been about the Carter Page FISA warrant.

How did anybody know about it in the first place? We still don`t know. But now it`s confirmed publicly because they did as Carter Page said they would, they took their big shot at it today. They declassified the information about that warrant and what led to it selectively, so they could take their big shot, so they could finally figure out the highest use they could put that warrant to. They`d use this memo to make the Russia investigation go away. Poof. Right?

They would show that the FISA warrant for Carter Page was based on the Steele dossier. Steele dossier they will say was therefore the source of the whole FBI Russia investigation and therefore, boom, national consensus, there is no more Russian investigation. Trump is innocent, problem solved.

Now, as I mentioned at the top, this plan is undercut by the memo itself, sad trombone, which notes in passing, quote, the page FISA application also mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos. The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July.

So, that means the dossier wasn`t the basis for the FBI`s counterintelligence investigation. It was other intelligence that the FBI had about actual worrying contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians. They weren`t made up. They`ve already resulted in a guilty plea and a cooperating witness.

Oops. Wow. Why`d they put that in there big memo? I mean, they could put anything in here, right? They didn`t let anybody check it against the actual effects. They just released it on their own. Why they put that in there? Oops, but they did.

I mean, even if you never fell for any of the now embarrassing Fox News hype about this thing, even if you never expected this was actually going to be a get-out-of-jail-free card for the president and his family, you know there is one assertion in this memo that does still really stick out. I think it`s designed to seem very worrying. Its assertion in the memo about Christopher Steele himself.

Now, Republicans have been telegraphing their punches on this for a long time. They`ve tried to make the dossier a scandal, right? They`ve tried to make Christopher Steele a scandal. Christopher Steele was the head Russia guy at MI-6 in Britain for years. They`ve tried to make him into a scandal on some sort of dubious dodgy person.

But because they`ve been trying to make that case for a year now, in fact they`ve turned a lot of what are supposed to be the congressional Russia investigations into instead full-time efforts to impugn Christopher Steele in the Russia dossier, because the Republicans have done that, we`ve actually got pretty good public record. We`ve got documents in the public domain about the dossier and about Christopher Steele, about the creation of the dossier about the firm that commissioned it.

Part of the reason we`ve got all that details because the Republicans have hauled Fusion GPS up to Capitol Hill and pressured their founder into giving hours of court congressional testimony about Christopher Steele and the Steele dossier because Republicans are so invested in making it seem like a terrible thing. Well, in this memo released today, this is what they say about Christopher Steele personally, which is designed to undercut him as a source, thereby undercut the dossier, thereby undercut the Russia investigation, even though the investigation wasn`t based on the dossier.

This is what it says actually about Steele in the memo today, quote: shortly after the election, the FBI began interviewing a senior DOJ official, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, who had been in contact with Christopher Steele. Ohr, according to the memo, had been documenting his communications with Christopher Steele.

Quote, for example, in September 2016, Steele admitted to Ohr his feelings against then candidate Trump when Steele said he was -- and this is in quotes -- desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president. It`s actually the only phrase in the entire memo that`s in bold type. They really want you to know that Christopher Steele communicated that when he brought his material to the Justice Department. Well, thanks to the -- thanks to the Russia probes in Congress being turned into anti-Christopher Steele investigations, thanks to the Glenn Simpson transcripts because they hauled the Fusion GPS guy back to Congress again and again and again, we actually know what the context is for Christopher Steele`s state of mind around that time.

We know what was going on at the time that might have led Christopher Steele to say something like that about how he felt about Donald Trump being elected president. We have more information about that than just what`s in the memo. The first Glenn Simpson transcript was released was from his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In that, on page 219 of that transcript, Glenn Simpson explains his and Chris Steele state of mind about Donald Trump, given all the information that Steele had just collected about him which caused them to take their information to the FBI and the Justice Department, basically out of fear because they were so alarmed by what this research project had turned up about Trump. So, this is -- this is from the transcript, quote.

So, after the election, obviously, we were as surprised as everyone else and Chris and I were mutually concerned about whether the United States had just elected someone who was compromised by a hostile foreign power. We were you know unsure what to do initially, we didn`t do anything other than to discuss our concerns but we were gravely concerned. OK.

Then we get a second transcript from Glenn Simpson talking to the House Intelligence Committee and he explains the state of mind that Christopher Steele had at the time explains it in more detail, page 78. Did the FBI ever reach out to you or Fusion GPS in relation to the matters that Mr. Steele informed them upon? I was asked to provide some information to the Justice Department. By whom and when?

It was by a prosecutor named Bruce Ohr, who was following us. Did Mr. Ohr reach out to you, or how did that shake out originally? I think Chris it was someone that Chris Steele knows. Chris Steele knows who? Bruce Ohr, OK.

Chris told me that he`d been talking to Bruce, that he`d told Bruce about what happened and that Bruce wanted more information and suggested that I speak with Bruce. The context of this is that it was after the election a very surprising thing had happened which is that Donald Trump had won. We were by that time, we were enormously concerned about rapidly accumulating indications that the Russian government had mounted a massive attack on the American election system and that, you know, Donald Trump and his associates might have been involved and there was a lot of alarming things happening, including Trump saying things about Vladimir Putin that really didn`t make any sense that weren`t ordinary things for a Republican to say and, you know, anyway.

And we had also by this time given this information to the FBI. They had indicated to Chris that they were investigating it and then they apparently told "The New York Times" that they weren`t. Now, instantly, that`s about this article which is published by the New York Times on October 1st, right before the election, investigating Donald Trump, FBI sees no clear link to Russia.

The substantive claims in that "New York Times" article have all basically been disproven. There`s a raging debate over why "The New York Times" hasn`t retracted or corrected that article but it existed at the time, so that led to this. Again from the transcript, again, we had also by this time given this information to the FBI, they had indicated to Chris that they were investigating it, but then apparently they told "The New York Times" that they weren`t.

So, it was not clear to us whether anyone at a high level of government was aware of the information that Chris had gathered and provided to the FBI. So, you know, we were frankly very scared for the country and for ourselves and we felt that if we could give it to someone else higher up we should. And so, Chris suggested I give some information to Bruce, give him the background all this, we eventually met at a coffee shop and I told him the story.

And then that part of the transcript ends with: my time is up. Thank you.

So, the memo released today by House Republicans, this classified memo that they thought would be the big get-out-of-jail-free card, would end the Russia investigation, the one actually alarming piece of it, or at least kind of shocking piece of it is when they say that Chris Steele expressed grave worries about Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.

They take that one piece and bold it it`s the one bold line in the whole memo they hold that up as the proof that Christopher Steele was a terrible anti-Trump partisan even though he`s not even from this country. They don`t mention that the reason Christopher Steele had feelings of desperation about Donald Trump might be because what he had learned in his research about Donald Trump and Russia and compromise and blackmail.

It`s a fiasco. What embarrassment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We are joined now by Congressman Adam Schiff, who is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman Schiff, thank you very much for being here. I know that this has been kind of a weird day.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, it has.

MADDOW: You know what the underlying intelligence is that led to this Republican memo today. We know that the other Republican member of Congress who has seen that underlying intelligence is actually not Congressman Devin Nunes, whose staff authored this memo. It`s Trey Gowdy who just surprised everybody this week by announcing that he would be resigning from Congress.

There`s been conflicting information as to whether or not he actually wrote this document. We contacted Congressman Gowdy`s office and asked, and they told us he was not involved in writing this memo. Congressman Nunes now says that it was he and Trey Gowdy who wrote it.

Do you have any clarity on that?

SCHIFF: I think the Republican staff wrote the memo. That`s the best of our understanding and, of course, that`s quite breathtaking because the chairman didn`t bother to review the underlying material. The only one apparently of Republican members who did, Trey Gowdy, is the same who brought us those endless Benghazi conspiracies that never prove to be true.

But I think it`s very important for people to understand as they try to justify this use, this use of this never before used House rule to publish this, this is not what oversight looks like. They claim this is part of oversight. We do oversight every day. Oversight involves bringing the agencies before our committee, asking them tough questions, getting answers, demanding information.

When they raised this memo, which they raised with no notice to us, we said, let`s bring in the FBI, let`s bring the Department of Justice, let`s hear what they have to say. Let`s look at the full FISA applications. Let`s go through them and see what`s being left out of this memo.

We took a vote on it and they voted no, we don`t want to know. We who haven`t read it, we who don`t look at the underlying materials, we don`t want to know. We just want to publish our memo.

And so, clearly, this is not about oversight. This is about a narrative that they wanted to tell, that they wanted to get out in the public domain. And you`re absolutely right in the context you set, Rachel.

I would just add one other thing to that timeline. This all began on March 20th when James Comey testified before our committee in the first open hearing and revealed for the first time there was a counterintelligence investigation going on of the Trump campaign. We on the committee, the Democrats, laid out I think a very powerful case for why a thorough and investigation needed to be done.

Republicans later told me they view that hearing as an utter disaster, as did the White House.

Now, why is that a disaster? It`s only a disaster if you view your job as protecting the president and to not finding out the truth. It was the very next day after that hearing that Devin Nunes went on the midnight run to his undisclosed location to get these incriminating documents that didn`t stand for anything like he represented them and the day after that, that he would present them back to the White House.

So, that whole gambit began the day after that hearing and it`s never really ended. This is just the latest chapter in an effort to distract attention from the Russia probe and try to put the government on trial.

MADDOW: What do you make of the effectiveness of this effort? I mean, to me, it feels quite fitting that today is Groundhog Day because it feels like we have seen this movie before in terms -- waving around. You know, I have this -- I have this list. I have this classified information that proves that the whole Russia investigation is based on something inappropriate that it should go away, that the real villains here are the Obama administration or Hillary Clinton.

I feel like we`ve seen a number of different iterations of this. But with the weeks of hype that conservative media and Republicans in Congress put in to this, with the dramatic and unprecedented action where they actually released classified information in order to do this, I have to ask you -- how damaging you think this is and how well this particular attempt of theirs has done at its aim to protect the president and try to divert the investigation?

SCHIFF: Well, I think it`s been very damaging but not in the way Republicans have hoped. It`s been damaging I think because they have built this up so much. On FOX, they were trumpeting this as the worst scandal in the history of the republic, something that made Watergate look like a walk in the park. Some of the GOP Tea Party members were out there saying this is the most vile thing they`ve ever seen and it`s a big dud.

Their proof of systemic abuse by the FBI and the Department of Justice consists of a single FISA court application against someone who had already been under inquiry by the FBI because he had already been approached by Russian intelligence for information years before Donald Trump came along.

But the real damage they have done is they have damaged the relationship between our committee and intelligence community. In the future, the intelligence committee is going to be wary about sharing information with us because they won`t trust us, and be responsible stewards of it, and sources of information are going to dry up.

If you have a neighbor next door who is buying a lot of fertilizer and it seems odd to you because they don`t have a yard, are you going to think twice before calling the FBI because if they get a search warrant for your neighbor and something is politicized, the political winds change, and there is investigation, your identity is going to be revealed because you really can`t trust that this is going to be kept confidential anymore.

There`s a reason why this process never been used before. But even so, the process presumed that the president of the United States who has a veto over this would be a responsible person who would have the interest of the nation at heart. And, of course, that`s not what we have here.

MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, currently engaged in the fight to have the Democratic rebuttal memo to this declassified and released -- sir, please keep us apprise. Thank you for being with us tonight.

SCHIFF: Sure will. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. A lot more to get to tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Rod and Rachel are Harvard graduates. They are experienced lawyers. They are -- Rod had 27 years in the department, Rachel`s had a number of years in department previously, and so, they both represent the kind of quality and in leadership that we want in the department.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.

REPORTER: Are you likely to fire Rosenstein? Do you still have confidence in him after reading the memo?

TRUMP: You figured that one out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The Republicans appear to have laid a bit of an egg with their big memo release today. But the president reportedly had been convinced by watching Fox News Channel segments in the lead up to today`s memo release. He had reportedly been convinced that this memo would offer him all the ammunition he needed to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who oversees the Mueller investigation at the Justice Department.

When the president was asked about that today by reporters, it doesn`t make you more likely to fire Rosenstein, do you still have confidence in him? The president`s response was, you figure that one out.

Joining us now is Chuck Rosenberg, former FBI chief of staff, former acting head of the DEA as a former U.S. attorney, has extensive experience with a FISA process at the FBI. He worked under both James Comey and Robert Mueller. It seems like the guy to talk to tonight.

Chuck, it`s great to have you with us tonight. Thank you very much for being here.

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: My pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW: So talk to me a little bit about the FISA process. Obviously, there has been criticism of the fact that any classified information about the FISA process has been released at all. Further, there has been criticism that if something`s going to be released, this selection of information about the FISA process according to Democrats is leading an incomplete, and according to the FBI, it`s sort of fatally incomplete, and therefore inaccurate.

From what you know about the FISA process, would it be possible to declassify safely enough information about a FISA warrant to give the public a true picture of what appropriately or inappropriately led to a warrant being issued?

ROSEBNBERG: Well, I could answer it this way Rachel if you wanted to give everyone a full picture. This wouldn`t do it. What you have right now are three pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with 997 missing and no box stop. So, this doesn`t give you any picture at all. I can tell you, having worked for Bob Mueller at the FBI, that I was responsible for reviewing the FISA warrants before he certified them, before the attorney general signed them, before prosecutors brought them to a FISA court judge to be authorized.

And so, lots and lots of people before me worked on those warrants, vetting them and corroborating them and making sure that everything was checked to the extent it could be. It`s a really exacting process and in fact, ironically, it`s the rank-and-file of the FBI, the agents and the analysts, it`s the rank-and-file of the Department of Justice, the paralegals and the prosecutors to ensure the accuracy of these things. That`s the people that the president lauded today the rank and file and those are the ones who helped prepare these for court.

MADDOW: Is there -- to the extent that this is going to be used as a political document, I played that clip from the president at the top here because there have been multiple reports that the president believes that he can use this, this memo, the release of this memo and the attendant publicity around it, particularly in the conservative media, to give him public support for dramatic action like potentially firing the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Given its intended use, which I think is a political and public relations use, should we expect that there would be some kind of rebuttal that the FBI would issue a public statement clarifying what are the implicit allegations against them in this memo?

ROSENBERG: I think the FBI said its piece and properly so. Look the FBI is in a bind here. It`s in a tough bind. They didn`t want anything out and they only compound the problem by putting more out. And here`s the -- can I take a minute just to explain what`s odd about classified information, Rachel?

MADDOW: Sure, please, please?

ROSENBERG: Yes. So, here`s the thing. Imagine that someone leaked a document that said that Rachel Maddow is senior official of a foreign government loved a Nutella but would only eat it with a red plastic spoon, and that becomes public and is marked top secret, and everyone`s wondering why in the world would that be marked top secret? That seems so innocuous.

But it turns out that only one person in the whole world you`re Great Aunt Barbara knows that you like eating Nutella with a red plastic spoon. And so, we`ve now told the whole world that Great Aunt Barbara is the source for the United States government. She`s a mole. She`s a spy, and something very bad is going to happen to her in the next couple of days in that foreign country.

And so, the FBI cannot be in the business of rebutting this stuff because to rebut it, they`re going to lay out other facts that foreign governments are going to use to their advantage and our disadvantage. They`ve said their piece.

MADDOW: Chuck, I have to tell you, I actually have an aunt named Barbara who`s kind of freaking out right now, but in a different way that --

ROSENBERG: No reason to think she`s a spy. Yes.

MADDOW: -- in a different way than you freaked out the whole country with what they`ve given away with this classified information.

Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney, former senior FBI official, former acting DEA administrator -- Chuck, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

ROSENBERG: My pleasure.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: There are five high-ranking officials who are named in this memo that was just released by House Republicans today. FBI Director James Comey, fired. Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, pushed out. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, fired. Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente who hadn`t been fired but they brought him back. And Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the one who oversees the Mueller investigation.

The White House has denied tonight that Rod Rosenstein`s job is on the line, but then they also repeatedly denied that the president ever tried to tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller which we now know he did. This is why people have been calling this moment a slow-motion Saturday night massacre, after Nixon cleared out the Justice Department in 1973, to try to stop the investigation against him.

Joining us now is our friend Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.

Michael, thank you very much for being with us.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW: Will you put this in historical context for us in terms of magnitude, in terms of how big a deal this is and how strange it is?

BESCHLOSS: Well, it could be a really big deal because number one just as you`ve been suggesting, you know, we could maybe even the next few days be seeing the firing of Rod Rosenstein, which could lead to an effort to constrain Robert Mueller`s investigation or even shut it down you know with all that would entail. So, I suggest the next couple of days, we all sleep with one eye open because we just cannot know what`s going to happen.

But even a larger context, Rachel. You know this is a guy Donald Trump who since the time he has -- was elected, has talked about attacking some of the most vulnerable aspects of our democracy and at the beginning and also in recent times, the FBI -- he`s talked about reconstructing the FBI. I don`t think I want to see an FBI where a president can use FBI agents to go after his political enemies.

Justice department, we saw that actually today. There`s an effort to cast doubt on the Justice Department, which is now our legal system is a threat to Donald Trump in his circuits and his circle and also the intelligence community from the very beginning after he was elected, he attacked. This is something that has in recent years you know kept us strong against Russia and is one of the bulwarks against Russia invading our electoral system this fall in the midterm elections. So, this is not only a threat to the Mueller investigation I think it goes way beyond.

MADDOW: As we see the White House and its allies in the Republican Party in Congress try to really not just rebut, but really impugn, really undo the Mueller investigation, the FBI, the Justice Department, to a certain extent the intelligence community, as you said, I`ve tried to put -- I try to see that in the context of the beef that various presidents have had with the media over time, to the beef that various presidents have had to people who are investigating them.

BESCHLOSS: Sure.

MADDOW: What seems different to me is the conservative media messaging machine that has turned this into not just a political stance has turned it into a cultural stance for conservatives.

BESCHLOSS: Right.

MADDOW: Does that have historic precedent or is that new?

BESCHLOSS: It`s something that Nixon was desperate to have and as a matter of fact, we now know from fairly recently released documents that Richard Nixon actually met with Roger Ailes of all people and talked to him about the possibility of establishing a conservative TV network. Nixon would have loved to have that during Watergate.

In the case now, I think it`s emboldening Donald Trump.

MADDOW: So, it ended up happening. It just didn`t benefit that version.

BESCHLOSS: Little aid for Nixon, but very helpful to Trump.

And the other thing, Rachel, is today was a day that really threatened America`s faith in government. That`s at the top of this -- of the Russian wish book. This was a great day for Russia and I think that`s something that none of us want to see.

MADDOW: NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss -- really appreciate your time tonight, Michael. Thank you.

BESCHLOSS: Be well. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: -- different jobs in the Trump administration. Five jobs, Dana Boente, he was already the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, which is big important position, given its proximity to Washington, D.C.

When the president fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates just days into his administration, he promoted Dana Boente to take her job as acting attorney general. Then, Jeff Sessions got sworn in as attorney general, they decided to keep Dana Boente around even longer. They made him acting deputy attorney general until Rod Rosenstein got sworn in as deputy attorney general. But still, they wouldn`t let go of Dana. They made him the acting assistant attorney general of the national in charge of the national security division at the Justice Department. So, he was doing that while also keeping his day job as the U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Virginia.

Now, considering it was an Obama holdover, the Trump administration really did appear to be making heroic efforts to keep Dana Boente around and to keep putting him in all these important positions that`s why it was surprising just a few days before Robert Mueller dropped his first indictments in the Russia investigation when Dana Boente was finally out, suddenly announced he was leaving the Justice Department, and NBC News later learned he didn`t jump, he was pushed. He had been told to resign.

After they gave him all those jobs, why did they finally fire that guy? After they`d been moving around all those other senior positions? Don`t know.

But then they changed their minds. Just a few days ago, they brought him back to yet another big job. They have him working now as the general counsel of the FBI. The Trump administration just can`t quit Dana Boente.

But today, we learned something else about him, something he did during his stint when he was acting deputy attorney general, and that is that Dana Boente was one of the many justice officials who signed a FISA application to renew surveillance on Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. I know, crazy.

I mean, the president had reportedly been hoping to use this memo as a way to get rid of Rod Rosenstein because Rosenstein signed off on one of those too. In fact, he appears to have done what everybody else did before him when it came to seeking a warrant to surveil Carter Page, and for all the other officials in his position signed off on these things. Four different judges were happy to approve surveillance warrants and renewals when it came to Carter Page.

The difference is all the other high ranking officials have been fired or on their way out the door or they are being threatened with being fired now like Rod Rosenstein.

Dana Boente signed one too. They`re not going to get fired? Again?

If Trump fires Rod Rosenstein over this memo, does that mean he has to get rid of Dana Boente too? He also signed this FISA application. He did it even before Rod Rosenstein did.

Why would Rosenstein have to go and not Dana Boente? Somebody explain this to me.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I hereby wish you a very, very happy Super Bowl weekend. I also hereby wish you gastrointestinal relief, now that this memo has dropped, the ones that our friends at the Fox News Channel and Republicans in Congress and the Trump White House had hyped and suggested would be the get-out-of-jail-free card for anybody who did anything untoward that led to an FBI investigation ever over the course of the Trump campaign or administration.

Now that it has dropped and it, if anything, disproves the main point they were trying to make with it. I feel like -- well, like I said, I wish you gastrointestinal relief. I feel as a country, we basically just had a very relieving burp. Whoo, that`s over.

All right. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again on Monday. Go Pats!

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD". Great Joy Reid is in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Joy. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END