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White House considering release of democratic memo. TRANSCRIPT: 2/6/2018, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Tom Hamburger

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: February 6, 2018 Guest: Tom Hamburger

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: On the dot, actually, like actually creepy like at the start of the 9:00 turning into zero-zero!

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Like the rocket landing. I would say the two most impressive thing that happened today, the rocket landing and me hitting that on the dot.

MADDOW: Now if there were only two of you and that was happening simultaneously --

HAYES: That`s true.

MADDOW: Yes, got it. Thanks, my friend.

And thanks at home for joining us this hour.

Like Chris was saying, you know, it is one thing to see the thing going up, that`s impressive enough. I`m not sure, though, that I will ever get used to seeing it come down, at least not like this.


ANNOUNCER: Ten, nine, eight, six, five, four, three, two, one --



MADDOW: And it was up with the force of 18 747 aircraft combined. Tens of thousands of people gathered on the Florida Space Coast to watch, the biggest crowd since the last space shuttle flight. And then once this thing was 37 miles up, 60 kilometers up in the sky, two of the booster rockets, the two on the sides, they split off and they started a controlled flight back to earth and it went a few more miles up, up to 90 kilometers, 56 miles up and then the core booster, the center booster, broke off, too.

Now, the core booster was supposed to come down on a drone barge in the ocean. As it was coming down, we lost the feed of that one and we couldn`t tell from the video whether the core booster, the central booster actually landed or not. You could on the broadcast, you could hear a voice at one point say "we lost the center core." So, we thought that probably meant the core booster, the center booster, the core booster was lost. Elon Musk later confirmed that the center core booster did not survive the landing on that drone ship.

But remember, there were three of them and those first two that broke off, the side boosters that were supposed to come down not at sea but on land, boy, did they come down beautifully. Right?

And you could see it before it happened, the two pictures in the bottom here are camera shot from each of the side boosters. Shot on the upper left shows you the view of Cape Canaveral, as they`re coming back to earth. Now watch. Watch this.


MADDOW: Reusable booster rockets. Incredible. You see them both standing there.

Both of these have flown in previous launches and if today`s perfect landing is anything to go by, they will fly again in future launches as well. So, it`s just incredible. I mean, this was Cape Canaveral. This was the space coast in Florida, this actually was the exact same launch pad used to send men to the moon 50 years ago. Now it`s being used to send a billionaire tech guru`s personal red convertible into space to orbit the sun. So, it`s different.

This is a national achievement but in a different kind of sway. SpaceX is an American company founded by an immigrant from Africa. Elon Musk, born in Pretoria in 1971, a U.S. citizen now since 2002. His company pulling off this spectacular launch and the landing of the booster rockets today.

This was the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in the world right now. Even if you don`t care about space exploration, admit it, this was legitimately thrilling to see. Didn`t even seem real.

And then very soon thereafter, the president announced today that he would, quote, love to see a shutdown of the government this week if Democrats do not agree to his anti-immigration demands. And then the White House chief of staff explained that a lot of immigrants to this country are people who are, quote, too lazy to get off their asses.

And then, seriously, "The Washington Post" reported that the president has ordered the pentagon to plan a giant military parade for him in Washington. The president reportedly went to the Pentagon and met with top military officials about it in person because he`s serious, he wants a big military parade for himself. He wants tanks and missile launchers in Washington. He specifically wants them on Pennsylvania Avenue and so, that is apparently what we are getting.

You know, we sometimes have military parades to mark the ends of wars. In this case, it`s apparently just because the president wants to see all the tanks and stuff. He just likes it. So, now, the military is working on this and the White House has confirmed they`ve demanded it and the taxpayers will pay many, many millions of dollars for it, including having to rebuild Pennsylvania Avenue after the treads from 70-ton tanks churn it up and turn it into rubble, so the president can have his parade.

So, today was in some ways a very inspiring day of the news. Other parts of the news today may have created other feelings for you. Your mileage may vary.

But now, tonight, there is some breaking news from the "Washington Post." The White House right now is deciding whether or not to allow the release of a classified memo prepared by Democrats on the Intelligence Committee basically to rebut a classified memo the White House released last week from Trump-supporting Republicans in Congress.

That Republican memo released on Friday, it did not go off like the bomb they hoped and promised it would, but it did make clear that what the White House and congressional Republicans think is their best shot at derailing the Russia investigation, derailing Robert Mueller`s special counsel investigation, they think their best shot at it is to try to tarnish the FBI`s whole investigation of the Russia attack, to tarnish the whole counterintelligence and criminal investigation of the Trump campaign for its potential cooperation in that attack, they want to tarnish that investigation, discredit it, and thereby try to make it go away by trying to claim that the whole FBI investigation was based on information given to the FBI by this guy, Christopher Steele, the former lead agent on Russia matters for MI6 in Britain. Attacking him really appears to be the centerpiece if not the whole game plan for what is now a Republican full court press to try to save this presidency and stop the investigation into him that has already brought -- resulted in two guilty pleas and multiple felony charges against two Trump campaign officials.

Now, in the House, Republican Devin Nunes has released his classified memo that he now admits misstates how the FBI used Chris Steele`s information in court to get a surveillance warrant. That`s what`s happening in the House against Christopher Steele.

In the Senate, it`s Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, along with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. They are literally trying to get the Justice Department to bring criminal charges against Christopher Steele. And in the middle of this scrum with the president reportedly meeting in person today at the White House with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to discuss the Democrats` classified memo on this matter, with the White House actively engaged in making its decision about releasing the Democratic information or not, letting the Republican attacks on the FBI and Chris Steele stand unanswered or not as they are in the middle of making that decision with a five-day clock ticking and today is day two, now in the middle of that, "The Washington Post" has just published a whole bunch of new reporting we have never seen before about what actually happened between this guy Christopher Steele and the FBI.

Quoting from the lead here: In the fall of 2016, a little more than a month before Donald Trump was elected president, Christopher Steele had the undivided attention of the FBI. For months, the British former spy had been working to alert the Americans to what he believed were disturbing ties Trump had to Russia. He`d grown so worried about what he learned from his Russia network about the Kremlin`s plans that he told colleagues it was, quote, like sitting on a nuclear weapon.

Well, he was now being summoned to Rome where he spent hours in a discreet location telling American officials, some of whom had flown in from the United States, about his findings. The Russians had damaging information about Trump`s personal behavior and finances that could be used to pressure the GOP nominee. What`s more? The Kremlin was now carrying out an operation with the Trump`s campaign`s help to tilt the U.S. election, a plot Steele had been told was ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

The FBI investigators treated Steele as a peer, a Russia expert so well- trusted he assisted the Justice Department on past case, he provided briefing materials for British prime ministers and at least one U.S. president. During intense questioning that day in Rome, they alluded to -- the FBI officials alluded to some of their own findings of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

So, this is new information. By this point, by the fall, September or October 2016, before the election, Christopher Steele had been a key source for the FBI in its investigation of corruption in international soccer. That was an investigation that led to 14 soccer executives getting charged in the United States.

In private practice as an investigator in 2014 and 2015, he passed along intelligence he gathered on Russia and Ukraine to the U.S. State Department. Quote: He offered us that reporting free so we also could benefit from it.

After he started working on the Trump research in 2016 where his initial findings to him were so hair-raising that he sent the first memo in the dossier by physical courier instead of trusting it to any form of electronic transmission, when those initial findings were so disturbing to him, he contacted an FBI official he knew who came to meet with him in London in July. Later that month, he reached out to the U.S. State Department, again, an organization, an agency to whom he had previously provided intelligence from his private research work. The State Department reportedly told him, this is the kind of thing that needs to go to the FBI, not us.

Thereafter, he spoke with a Justice Department official, an official he had worked with on the soccer case, Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. Then after that, while he was ringing alarm bells wherever he could about what he saw as the seriousness of what he was finding out, that`s when he ended up meeting with those FBI agents in Rome. That`s where he reportedly gathered that the bureau had independently developed information that appeared to match some of his reports.

Soon thereafter we had the election, Trump won, after the election, Steele, quote, quickly provided a full review of his findings for a senior British official, a step he had told the FBI in Rome he would take in the case of a Trump victory. Then in December, a former British diplomat who was fully briefed on Steele`s findings, he arranged to meet with Republican Senator John McCain on the sidelines of a security conference in Canada, again to try to ring alarm bells here about the seriousness of Trump`s relationship with Russia and how it may have affected the campaign.

Now, we`ve known that John McCain has been sort of read in on the Steele dossier and that he had provided its content to the FBI directly to James Comey after he received it from British officials. But now, thanks to "The Washington Post," tonight, for the first time, we`ve got an account of what happened when they met in Canada.

Quote, Sir Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia described Steele`s research for McCain and told McCain he could arrange for him to review it. McCain, he recalled, was visibly shocked. The senator expressed interest in reading the full report, Wood said, recalling that McCain responded: Thank you for seeing me, you did the right thing and I`m grateful. My first thought has to be for my country.

My first thought has to be for my country, or for Chris Steele`s perspective, my first thought has to be for your country. How else can I sound this alarm?

Now, Republicans in Congress are trying to persuade the Justice Department to bring charges against him for having done that.

Joining us now is one of the reporters who broke this latest news and gave us all this new narrative detail about Christopher Steele, Tom Hamburger, national reporter for the "Washington Post".

Mr. Hamburger, congratulations on this really incredibly reporting. Thanks for being with us.


MADDOW: So, this report comes in the midst of a concerted attack on Christopher Steele himself from Republicans in Congress. They`re alleging he was basically peddling false information to try to take down Donald Trump for political purposes. One of the things that you disclose in this new reporting here is that there were at least a couple of meetings between Christopher Steele and the "Washington Post" during the time that this reporting describes.

Given that, given that you at "The Post" met with him, that you guys knew what he was working on for some time, how does it strike you, these attacks that he was trying to sink Trump for political reasons?

HAMBURGER: Well, Rachel, it`s true that Christopher Steele visited "The Washington Post" and other news organizations in 2016. We had a discussion with him that was off the record and were not released from our off-the- record agreement that we did get permission from Mr. Steele`s associates to mention the fact that we had talked with him during the campaign.

One of the things -- and because we had talked to him in September and October of 2016, we thought that, obviously we`ve been following what he`s had to say and read the dossier as everyone else did when "BuzzFeed" published it some months later. We, like the rest of the country and many investigators, have been wondering is this dossier with its salacious detail about Donald Trump, could this be true? Can it be corroborated? It`s a huge question.

What`s happened now, Rachel, is that Christopher Steele is sort of moved to the center of the polarized fight that we`re seeing so you have the Nunes memo from the House Intelligence Committee that suggests that the FBI really didn`t appropriately alert the FISA court, the court that granted a search warrant for monitoring Carter Page, that there was insufficient disclosure of who Christopher Steele was. And Senator Lindsey Graham has raised the question publicly and in his letters to the FBI saying, is Christopher Steele an informant for the FBI or is he in fact a political hired gun, an opposition researcher? And he asked the question, can you be both?

And so, Rachel, what we decided to do was to kind of dive into that question and understand as best we can who is Christopher Steele, what were his assignments, and how did he deal, and did he deal, with what would seem to be an inherent contradiction? A guy who is talking to the FBI about things he`s learned from Russia sources on the one hand and a man, a professional, moved to the private sector, who feels he has obligations to a private client who happens to be working in this case for a law firm that represents Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.

MADDOW: Tom, you mentioned Senator Lindsey graham there. There has been this effort by Senator Graham and Senator Grassley to refer Christopher Steele to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. And you have a striking report on that tonight. You say -- I`m just going to quote from your article tonight: friends and former colleagues say that Steele has been dismayed on the attacks on him, particularly about a criminal referral about his actions that two U.S. senators made to the Justice Department. The move was viewed by some British lawmakers and long time intelligence officials as an affront to the special bond between the United States and Britain.

Could you talk about that, why the British are so affronted by what Senator Graham and Senator Grassley are doing?

HAMBURGER: Well, I think Rachel, there are a couple things that we learned in talking to some of Steele`s former associates in the British intelligence community and we also talked with some members of parliament. And one of the things we were struck by is how they seemed to be gathering around Christopher Steele, a person that they know, his record is considered quite credible during his many years, 22 years working for her majesty`s secret intelligence service.

And so, the idea that a former intelligence official who has been -- who is considered both credible and reliable and did honorable service would be charged or have a criminal referral just somehow seemed to be an affront. And we talked with one member of member of Congress who said -- sorry, one parliament who said to us, you know, here we view Christopher Steele as someone to whom we owe a debt of thanks because he helped warn not only the United States as he saw it but also Britain because his dossier and the word that he put out as circulated widely and he said he`s one of the first who sounded the alarm and we should be thankful, not critical, and certainly not, in his view, filing criminal charges.

MADDOW: Tom, let me ask you one last point that to me was just a very intriguing point that you made here. You describe how Steele is struggling with what he can do with this information that he`s found which he thinks is very explosive, very dangerous, like sitting on a nuclear bomb was your -- the memorable quote that you had.


MADDOW: And at one point, he goes to his former boss, the former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove, to ask for Dearlove`s advice about what he should do with this information which he believes is very dangerous information he`s getting about Trump.

Quoting from your article here: Dearlove said the situation reminded him of a predicament he faced years earlier when he was chief of station for British intelligence in Washington and he alerted U.S. authorities to British information that an American vice presidential hopeful had once been in communication with the Kremlin.

That`s an amazing piece of story telling in terms of the communication between these two guys, but what`s the underlying story there?

HAMBURGER: So, Rachel, part of our assignment was to understand this guy Christopher Steele who had these two assignments, one for a private sector client in fact representing Hillary Clinton and her campaign and another, a guy who felt he had an obligation as he described it to friends, an obligation to tell authorities and to alert people to what he had found, because he claims, at least to his friends and associates, that he was dismayed by what he found. And we wanted to check this out, so we talked to a guy who was basically his former boss at MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, and he told us that indeed Steele and his partner, Christopher Burrows, had come to him during 2016 asking for advice, they unburdened themselves, in a sense, he said, because they were in a difficult situation and were unsure what to do.

Dearlove called on his own experience before he was head of MI6, he ran -- he was a significant figure in the British embassy in Washington and he recalled without providing detail an instance in which British intelligence had come across some artifact of information about a former vice presidential hopeful some years ago. And what Dearlove told us he advised these two former employees of his was: what I did at that time was to recognize how sensitive this was. The most important thing is to get the information out there.

And what Dearlove recommended was that the two go to a very senior British official and have them convey it subtly to the FBI so that it would not become an issue of Britain trying to blow the whistle. He recommended handling it subtly and carefully. One of the things it appears is that Steele and Burrows didn`t entirely follow his advice because rather than going to a British official to subtly alert the FBI, they went -- Chris Steele went directly to an old friend, a colleague at the FBI whom he`d known for years and told him what he had found while doing this work for the Clinton campaign and the DNC`s law firm.

MADDOW: Sure, and then that incredible documented timeline of communication between him and his -- the person he knew at the FBI, those four FBI agents who he met with in Rome, alerting the State Department as well, his press contacts.

You fleshed this out more than anybody, even though we don`t know who the vice presidential hopeful was who was in communication with the Kremlin, you`ve also given us another very intriguing story to try to figure out.

Tom Hamburger, national reporter for "The Washington Post", this is great work. Thanks for helping us understand it.

HAMBURGER: Good to be with you. Thank you.

All right. Lots more to get to tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Her name is Ching Hai. She`s the leader of a religious cult. She had her own fashion line. She had a big chain of international restaurants. Her followers were so devoted to her that I kid you not they used to buy her old socks.

You know, you get socks that wear out, you either like darn them or throw them away, in her case, her old worn out socks, her followers would spent lots of money to buy them and trade them amongst themselves like treasure. In the late `90s, Ching Hai, they called her the supreme master of Zen, she and a bunch of her many followers, they gave a really generous gift to the president of the United States.


REPORTER: How would American followers of an obscure religious cult based in Taiwan try to help Bill and Hillary Clinton pay their legal bills? A cult with an odd blend of fashion, vegetarianism and Buddhist teachings. NBC News has learned many of them were told to by cult leaders here in the U.S., according to investigators. $640,000 much of it cult money, was brought to the Clinton defense fund by Charlie Trie, a Democratic fund- raiser and an Arkansas friend of the president`s.

It`s not clear exactly where the money really came from, Ching Hai followers in America donated thousands. She says they acted on their own.

CHING HAI, CULT LEADER: They asked me if they can help Clinton, if it`s political motivation or not, I say, OK, just help quietly, don`t blow trumpet about it.


MADDOW: Just help quietly, don`t blow trumpet about it.

The Clintons ultimately returned the $640,000 of used sock money from the religious cult. There were concerns that the money didn`t come voluntarily from these followers who wanted to help President Clinton pay his legal bills. Basically, there were worries that the cult was functioning as a big money laundering scheme of some kind.

So, President Clinton gave that money back. But that is a hard thing about legal defense funds. It can be hard to tell where that money is coming from. In presidential scandals, one of the places where people tend to get in trouble in terms of secondary scandals and in terms of legal troubles is in terms of legal defense funds. It happens over and over again.

And we`ve got some very interesting news on that front coming up exclusively here next. Stay with us.


MADDOW: -- last week on a new Russia scandal legal defense fund that`s been set up to help people on team Trump pay their legal bills in the Russia investigation.

The first thing to know about this is that it`s interesting. The White House still has made no announcement, no formal announcement whatsoever about this Russia scandal legal defense fund. They appeared to have made have made no effort to publicize it or even to let people know that this fund is on its way.

We found it, we found draft papers for this Patriot Legal Defense Fund Trust, we found the draft papers for it on the Website of the Office of Government Ethics because the lawyers working on setting this thing up went to OGE for advice for how to set it up. But you can see in these draft documents, the whole fund is to pay for legal expenses that come from dealing with the Russia investigation by either the special counsel or committees in Congress.

The draft documents spell out who is eligible to get help from the Russia scandal legal defense fund -- employees, consultants, fund-raisers or volunteers for the Trump campaign, the Trump transition or the Trump administration. That said, you can`t get your legal fees paid for by this fund if you are the president himself, or a member of his family. And that means you, too, Jared, no spouses.

So we found this new legal defense fund, evidence of it, online. We reported it late last week. Again, the White House still has not said anything publicly about it. The lawyers who have been working on setting this thing up are also not commenting on it at all. One lawyer for president Trump wouldn`t even let one of our producers get a question out of her mouth when she called to ask about it last Thursday.

She said, quote, we have a couple of questions to ask you, sir. Answer, no, you can`t ask me anything. Good night.

That`s the president`s lawyer John Dowd answering our call. No, you cannot ask me anything, good night.

Which also would be a pretty good signoff for nightly news shows. Good night.

Anyway, so they haven`t announced they`ve set up this legal defense fund, they won`t answer any questions about it, but we reported that it exists and now, this is starting to get reported out. And already a couple of issues have bubbled up, including the question of the president`s own role and own money here.

The idea for setting up a Russia scandal legal defense fund appears to have come up after this sort of bizarre revelation that the national Republican Party and the Trump campaign were using donors` money to pay Russia scandal legal fees only for the president and his son Donald Jr., only Donald Trump Sr. and Donald Trump Jr. were getting help paying their legal fees in the Russia scandal. Everybody else was on their own, tapping the kids` college funds.

Now, based on the press coverage that they got at the time they said they were planning to create this fund, it`s clear that creating this fund was supposed to kind of remedy that awkwardness. So, they were announcing that the president, yes, the DNC -- excuse me, the RNC and the Trump campaign, these donors have been paying for his legal fees so far but the president will start paying for his own legal fees and he will also pay the legal bills of people who work for him as well. You see the headline there. Trump to pay his own legal bills, set up fund to cover staff.

So,. that -- if that is what they`re going to use the fund for, so the president can help defray the legal costs of all of the people involved in Trump orbit caught up in the Russia scandal, that may sort of help the political problem, the strategic problem of him getting his bills paid for but everybody else having to cover themselves. But there`s also an awkwardness to that solution because if the boss is paying your bills, the boss is the president, he`s offering to help you with your legal bills, right, you`re a staffer deciding what you`re going to tell the special counsel about the boss who`s now paying your legal bills, right, there`s an awkwardness to that, too.

So, this remains an open question and an interesting one. Would the president start personally paying the legal bills of staffers in the White House who are being called to testify potentially for him or against him? It seemed like that was what the fund was set up for, but sure enough, the day after we first reported on the new existence of this Russia scandal legal defense fund, CNN reported that the president is, quote, unlikely to contribute to this fund because it will bankroll bills for multiple officials, some of whom may still need to speak to special counsel investigators at least while the investigation is going.

So, this is a sticky wicket, right? Money for the president? Yes, maybe not. How do we deal with that with the fund? Sticky.

Well, where else could the money come from to fund these legal fees with the Russia scandal legal defense fund?

On this point, on the point of where the Trump legal defense fund is going to get its money, I have something that I would like to know, something that I want more information about.

For several months, we`ve been reporting on and asking about a big financial mystery concerning the Trump inauguration. The Trump inaugural committee raised a record amount of money. They raised double the amount of money that had been raised for the previous record which was the first Obama inauguration in 2009. Trump folks raised over $100 million for an inauguration that I`m sure was loads of fun but it really was not all that big, right?

For an inauguration many times smaller than the Obama 2009 inauguration, the Trump folks raised more than twice as much money? This is like one family buys a full scale, brand new rock star tour bus and their neighbors, the neighboring family buys a second hand lawn tractor and then you find out that the second hand lawn tractor family, they paid twice as much, like, it doesn`t make any sense. It doesn`t make any sense.

The mystery that remains from day one of the Trump administration, from the Trump inauguration, is that it would seem just based on what it costs to produce the Obama inauguration and the size of the Trump one, it would seem that the Trump inauguration likely has tens of millions of dollars left over.

And adding to the mystery and the sense of intrigue around this, they really can`t figure out what it is they want to say about what happened to all that money or how they`re accounting for it and what they plan to do with it. In June, the inaugural committee told "The A.P." that a full and clean external audit has been conducted and completed, but they wouldn`t give "The A.P." a copy of that audit then. They never released one publicly and we ask but they`re not giving us one now either.

The inaugural committee then said in September, they`d publicly disclose their finances, including gifts to charity they would make from their leftover money. They said they would do that in November. Come November, that did not happen.

Committee said in September, they would wrap up the committee. The committee would conclude in accordance with its charter in the next few months. Well, as of January, no evidence that they had wrapped up and more importantly no evidence of what happened to what we believe are their leftover tens of millions of dollars.

They keep saying information is coming, there will be a full accounting, there`s going to be disbursements to charity. They admitted they have lots of extra money. But it`s been more than a year and everything they said would happen hasn`t happened.

Despite what they`ve said and what they`ve promised over months and months and months now, as far as we know the committee is still open and they industrial a ton of money they`re sitting on. Their previous public statements about it have not borne out. There is something going on with the Trump inaugural committee and it involves a ton of money.

Here`s the thing to watch, though. If you are looking for a place for the leftover tens of millions of dollars from the Trump inauguration to end up, we now know one place that money could go is to the brand new not yet announced Russia scandal legal defense fund that they just set up. It is set up to allow for that.

The inaugural committee is a nonprofit that has to give its money away for a nonprofit use. The Russia scandal legal defense fund is set up in a way to fit that bill. Two different campaign finance lawyers have now told us, yes, if they want to do it that way, the extra inaugural millions could go to this.

I`ll tell you, we`ve also contacted the inaugural committee again to ask about their plans, we still have no answer. So we have this open question of where the legal defense fund is going to get its money, including whether the president might end up contributing even though that`s very awkward. Will the presidential inaugural committee end up doing the contributing?

And we do know from the previous bizarre revelation about Don Jr. and Don Sr. getting their legal fees paid for while everybody else was personally paying for their lawyers, we also know that there are other means by which people can try to get their legal fees paid for, right? The Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have been paying some selected Russia legal fees.

And that brings me to this one last point. We got the new financial reports from the Trump campaign last week. The headline was about the outsized amount that had been going to pay lawyers. Some of that Trump campaign legal spending is going to a firm that also happens to represent the president`s long-time personal lawyer in the Russia investigation, Michael Cohen, the president`s lawyer, he has -- the president`s lawyer has a lawyer to represent him for the Russia matter.

That law firm got $214,000 from the Trump campaign last year. Now, this pile of money from the Trump campaign stands out for a couple of reasons.

First is that Michael Cohen was never a part of the Trump campaign. So, why is the Trump campaign paying his Russia legal bills? He is the president`s personal lawyer and he does have a lawyer for himself in the Russia investigation.

Now, Trump campaign money is going to this firm that happens to represent the president`s personal lawyer, they`re called McDermott, Will and Emery. They`ve got about $214,000 in all from Trump campaign donors.

Now, in real life, that firm lives in midtown Manhattan on Madison Avenue. But in the Trump campaign papers, that firm lives in a totally different place, a totally different address and this could be a wholly innocent clerical error, right name for the firm but wrong address, oops. You can see these crossed up addresses as totally an accident, except the wrong address, the place where the campaign says they sent that check, that so happens to be the exact office address of Michael Cohen whom McDermott, Will & Emery represent in the Russia investigation.

I know Michael Cohen`s office building very well because it`s also this building where I work. We`re work neighbors a few floors apart.

What happened here, we don`t know. On the one hand, it looks like the Trump campaign could be paying the Russia scandal legal bills for the president`s lawyer, making their campaign donors pay for that, even though he wasn`t part of the campaign. On the other hand it looks like somebody maybe just fat-fingered the wrong button. So much of this, from how the legal defense fund is going to work to what will happen to the inaugural committee money to this weird thing with the lawyer`s address being wrong, so much of it could be cleared up if anyone involved would be willing to go on the record and talk about it.

The silence is not helping anybody understand what is going on and what is going on looks super weird.


MADDOW: He`s here in person, he`s here in studio. Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.

Mr. Beschloss, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being here.


MADDOW: I almost missed you there.

BESCHLOSS: Right, right.

MADDOW: I`m used to high fiving you through the satellite.

BESCHLOSS: Right, right, right. It`s a pleasure to do it here.

MADDOW: So, we have been following the story. We broke this story a little bit in terms of the president setting up what appears to be a Russia scandal legal defense fund and we were first to break the story on Thursday night that the legal document setting this thing up had been posted online apparently in dialogue with the Office Government Ethics. We`ve started to figure out the sticky wickets around this, including this question of whether the president`s inaugural committee left over money, of which there appears to be a giant pile, whether that could be shuttled in that direction.

The reason I want to talk to about this is because it is my general sense that when there are presidential scandals, legal defense funds around those scandals are like a magnet for trouble. That it`s a way that people get in addition trouble. Is that true?

BESCHLOSS: Yes, that`s for sure, and you were talking about Charlie Trie with the Clinton legal defense fund. That`s an example because, oftentimes, people give to these legal defense funds for reasons that are not just charitable and a wonderful feeling that you like to help out the president. Sometimes, people want something from our president and that`s one way to make them indebted.

But the other thing is maybe the two words of the night should be hush money because --


BESCHLOSS: -- and it takes us right back to Richard Nixon because 1973 when Nixon was faced with some of the Watergate culprits threatening to go to the Feds and, you know, really blow this scandal wide open. Nixon agreed to give people like Howard Hunt and other co-conspirators in the Watergate scandal money to basically keep them quiet.

The night he fired Haldeman and Ehrlichman, April of 1973, that day he actually said to them, I`ve got money. Bebe Rebozo, my friend, has got it, and they keep his (INAUDIBLE) bank down in Florida, you know, this fund, you can have the money. As it turns out, he never paid it. But there`s a big tradition of -- in the case of Nixon and other politicians using money to try to silence aides who might be testifying against them.

MADDOW: And in that case was -- either with Haldeman and Ehrlichman specifically, or some of the other people who got what looked like hush money from Nixon in that scandal, was he offering specifically to help them with legal expenses? I mean, these are people who got charged with stuff. That was the basis of those conversations.

BESCHLOSS: Absolutely. And if you look at the tapes, that`s exactly what they`re talking about and Nixon is absolutely desperate to keep Haldeman and Ehrlichman in line. He says to Haldeman, I love you like a brother, keep the faith, and what he meant by saying the keep the faith was shut up and don`t get me into trouble.

MADDOW: So, there`s a Clinton legal defense fund around Whitewater though they handled it by giving the money back.


MADDOW: There`s the Nixon example. But then there was also Iran-Contra, right? I mean, I know that with Oliver North who was one of the highest profile figures in Iran-Contra, there was a gigantic amount of money in his legal defense fund. Richard Secord, wasn`t there like a donation that we still don`t know?

BESCHLOSS: That was amazing. Richard Secord was involved in the illegal arm sales, illicit arm sales to Iran and he did it through a Swiss bank and suddenly in the same Swiss bank that was used to transfer the money back and forth to Iran suddenly appears half a million dollars supposedly no one knows where that money came from.

MADDOW: The same bank from the illegal arms deal?

BESCHLOSS: Yes, absolutely the same bank, and someone knew, you know, where to find the account of Secord, and so, this money appears and the question does occur what was the motive of the person who was suddenly putting this money into his account.

MADDOW: Into his legal defense fund.

BESCHLOSS: Absolutely.

MADDOW: Which ends up -- I just feel like it`s the little place where you plant a flag at the start of every scandal when you start to read about it like watch the defense funds.

BESCHLOSS: That`s exactly right.

MADDOW: And now we finally got one in this scandal.

Michael Beschloss, NBC New presidential historian, great to see you, Michael. Lovely to have you here in person.

BESCHLOSS: Thank you. Me too, Rachel.

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


MADDOW: -- politics story that we`ve been following one way or another for over a year. Since the last presidential election where Republicans did so well and Democrats did so poorly, things have really turned around for Democrats all across the country. There`s been a bunch of special elections from a local level on up to congressional and even Senate races.

And in those races, even in places that are really, really, really red, we`ve seen these races going a lot bluer and turns out that is happening tonight as we speak in a very unexpected place. This is story that`s developing right now. We`re going to have full details for you after the break.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: So heads up about a small thing that is happening tonight that could end up being something quite important. In the great state of Missouri tonight, polls closed just a short time ago in special elections for four open state legislative seats there. All four of these seats were seats that were previously held by Republicans. And all four of these districts are places that went for Trump by huge margins, anywhere between 28 and 64 point margins for Donald Trump.

In these statehouse district races, these are such Republican districts, no Democrat even bothered to run in any of these districts last year. Republicans either ran unopposed or against an independent candidate.

Well, tonight, it looks like a different story. And we`ve seen this coming for a little bit. For the last year or so, Democrats across the country have been winning special elections or coming closer to winning special elections that we`re seeing this year before in places that they had no business competing yet alone winning.

But in Missouri, tonight, there are Democrats running in all four of these special election races, even though, again, Democrats didn`t bother running anybody last year. And now, check these out, one of these districts that went wildly for Trump in 2016, it looks like a Democrat might have just won that district.

These are unofficial results from the Missouri secretary of state`s office right now. They still need to be certified by local election authorities and by the secretary of state. But what I want you to know about this, this state district 97, this is a district that went for Donald Trump in 2016 by almost 28 points. And tonight, it looks like it went to a Democrat.

This is statehouse race in Missouri, a district just outside St. Louis. Mike Revis is the Democrat who appears to have won there. Again, did I mention this was a district only Republicans won and Democrats didn`t bother to run somebody last year?

One other district, district 129, which is in Southwestern Missouri, in that case, the Republican appears to have won there by a pretty good margin. But I want to tell you something about this race, too. Trump won this district by a margin of 67 points. This Democrat tonight has lost by 39 points. So, even though she lost by a lot, this is such a Republican district, and it shows a 22 point swing towards the Democrats since November 2016.

So, this could end up being a big deal for Democrats. Could be a big deal for Republicans in Missouri who are trying to keep a super majority that they`ve got in the state legislature. The Missouri Republican Party has had some -- had a bit of bumpy ride in recent years.

This is the party that brought us Todd Akin, who talked about legitimate rape. If a woman is legitimately raped she can`t get pregnant. The female body has a way to shut that whole thing down. Todd Akin was the Republican nominee against Senator Claire McCaskill in 2012, and she beat him.

McCaskill is up again for reelection again this November. One of her potential Republican opponents this year is Missouri`s Attorney General Josh Holly, who just said the reason there`s sex trafficking is because of the sexual revolution in the 1960s and `70s.

One of her other potential opponents is Courtland Sykes. He says things like, I don`t buy into radical feminism`s crazed definition of modern womanhood. They made it up to suit their own nasty, snake-filled heads.

So, Missouri Republicans have been having kind of a weird time of it even before their Republican governor ended up under a grand jury investigation involving something I don`t have time to explain right now. But, boy, look it up.

But again tonight, Republicans in Missouri may have lost a seat that they should have felt very, very comfortable about. We`ll stay on this through the night.

Thank you for being with us.


Good evening, Lawrence.



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