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Lawyer indicted by Mueller will not cooperate. TRANSCRIPT: 2/21/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Nicole Hockley

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: February 21, 2018 Guest: Nicole Hockley

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

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

HAYES: Thank you.

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

We`re following a lot of developing news stories today and tonight. Very happy to have you with us.

You should know that one of the things that`s going on in the conservative media right now is that the Fox News Channel and conservative media online, they`ve started agitating today for something you would not expect. They have started agitating today, advocating today that Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn should withdraw his guilty plea in the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation.

Now, Mike Flynn, of course, pled guilty in December. He signed a cooperation agreement with molars prosecutors at that time. Conservative media have now decided as of today that even though Flynn chose to plead guilty that itself was some sort of mistake or some sort of miscarriage of justice. It is a strange argument. It`s so far not making all that many waves in mainstream media or in mainstream legal circles, but as you know when it comes to the scandal and this White House stuff has a way of moving very quickly out of the fringes to become the big new idea in Washington.

So, you should know that is happening out there on the fringe tonight will actually have more on that coming up this hour, including some expert advice I think that we`ll help make some sense out of that sort of strange story. That is percolating out there. We`re watching it.

We also just tonight got the transcript from the court hearing that happened yesterday, involving Alex van der Zwaan, who is the latest person to plead guilty in a special counsel investigation. He pled yesterday in federal court in D.C. from that transcript and from all the court filings in his case which have now been unsealed, we`ve now got confirmation that unlike Mike Flynn, an unlike Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, in this guy`s case, in van der Zwaan`s case, he did not sign a cooperation agreement with the prosecution. Van der Zwaan did agree to plead guilty to lying to the FBI but not to cooperate with prosecutors.

Now, why is that important? This guy is a -- he`s a Dutch citizen. He`s an English lawyer. He`s Russian-speaking.

It has been of interest this question of whether he might be cooperating in the Mueller investigation particularly because of the family that he just married into. His father-in-law, the father of his new wife is a multi- billionaire Russian oligarch who is close to Vladimir Putin and is one of the founders of a very big company called Alfa Bank.

Now, over the course of this scandal involving Russian interference in our election, the questions of whether the Trump campaign was involved in that interference, there have been some intriguing questions raised as to whether Alfa Bank played any role in Russia`s interference in our election. The way that Putin`s Russia works these days, there`s often what appears to be a private-sector component to what is otherwise government action. Mueller`s team of prosecutors gave credence to that and put some evidence behind that hypothesis when they indicted a Russian company and a Russian billionaire businessman close to Putin, alongside all those other Russian nationals who they indicted last Friday in the indictment that concerned the Russian troll farm, the social media attack that Russia mounted.

Well, in the case of Alfa Bank, that`s a private enterprise but there have been intriguing questions raised as to whether or not any part of Alfa Bank might have played some role in the Russian interference in our election there have been specific questions raised as to whether Alfa Bank might have been involved in surreptitious contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia while the attack was underway. You might remember that ultimately sort of baffling reporting about unexplained communications during the election between computer servers in Russia linked to Alfa Bank and a computer server in Trump Tower linked to the Trump Organization.

Very interesting reporting, ultimately, it`s open-ended. We don`t have any idea what that server communication was about, but it raised questions. Alfa Bank and its founders are also mentioned prominently in the Christopher Steele dossier, which of course outlines allegations of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to carry out this attack. Now, Alfa Bank and its founders are suing Fusion GPS which paid for the dossier and "BuzzFeed" who published the dossier because Alfa Bank and it`s founder disagree vehemently with those allegations.

But when Alex van der Zwaan was arrested and indicted in the Mueller investigation, surprise, and that was all unsealed yesterday when he pled guilty in federal court yesterday, that did raise the prospect, you know, oftentimes when people plead guilty it`s because they`re cooperating it raised the prospect that he might be an inside source a very interesting inside source of information for Mueller`s prosecutors about Alfa Bank. One of the three founders of Alfa Bank is his dad now, is his father-in- law.

So, interesting prospects raised yesterday by his guilty plea given his family connections now with the release tonight of the transcript of his hearing with the unsealing of all the court filings in his case, we can see that whatever Alex van der Zwaan told Mueller`s prosecutors leading up to his court appearance yesterday and they apparently have kept him here in the United States since they first interviewed him in November. So that has afforded them a lot of opportunity to talk with him.

Whatever Alex van der Zwaan told Mueller`s prosecutors about the Mueller investigation of Russia attacking our election, we now know for sure and on the record that there was no explicit written cooperation agreement between him and the prosecutors entered in court filings to go along with his guilty plea.

Now, I raised that right now in part because there`s been a lot of misreporting on that point since we first learned that van der Zwaan was being charged yesterday. A lot of people have said that he pled guilty and agreed to cooperate. It is now clear from Mueller`s prosecutors in the transcript and from these court filings that there was no cooperation agreement just the guilty plea. So, I`m sort of just raising that as a point of order. People who have misreported that should clear it up and we`re going to have some expert advice a little later on this hour as to the importance of that distinction.

I should also mention that there was a new sealed filing by Mueller`s prosecutors today in the government`s case against Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The way this filing was made and what led up to this filing in Manafort`s case today makes it appear that these might be new charges against Paul Manafort, maybe even a whole new super -- superseding indictment in the Manafort and Gates case, that`s just the guess. As of now, it`s a sealed documents basically a mystery and a very intriguing one if that -- we`ll have more on that tonight as well.

So, watching all those stories tonight we`ll have more on a lot of that over the course of this hour. But if you saw any news today, undoubtedly, what you saw was this -- "Miami Herald" reporting tonight that this was the largest demonstration in Tallahassee, the largest demonstration at the state capitol in Florida in 20 years.

We knew there would be protests today at the state capitol in Tallahassee. We did not know it would be thousands of people and mostly teenagers. This was described by a lot of observers and reporters today as a boisterous protest, a boisterous rally at the Florida state capitol. I don`t know if boisterous is the right word, but it was big, it was loud and it was emotional.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN DEITSCH, PARKLAND SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I`m not here for a fight. I`m not here to argue with you. I just want to speak. I just want to see your face and know why.

(APPLAUSE)

(CHANTING)

LORENZO PRADO, PARKLAND SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: We lose confidence in our government because we are told that nothing can be done time and time again and we`re tired of hearing that, because we know there can be change in this country never again show up tragedy of this caliber happen in this country never again.

As always, be positive, be passionate and be proud to be an Eagle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The Eagle is the mascot of the high school where the massacre happened last week in South Florida. So that was the teenager-led rally at the state capitol in Florida today in Tallahassee.

But there were student walkout some protests today all over the place. This was Minneapolis, Minnesota, look at this turnout. Students took their cues in Minneapolis from the kids in Florida. They too walked out of their schools today. In Minneapolis, they converged on city hall. In the Washington, D.C. area, students came from all over.

Look at these scenes from this Union Station, the main train station in downtown D.C. If you ever taken the train into D.C., you know Union Station is walking distance from the White House and the capitol, so these kids all flooded into D.C. today, including all of these kids streaming out of Union Station to go protest.

For at least the second time in the past week, teenagers held these dramatic protests on the street right outside the White House, between the White House and Lafayette Park. Kids protested today in Gilbert, Arizona, and in Parker, Colorado, and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in Stafford Township, New Jersey, and in Bellingham, Washington.

They were -- they protested -- they`re all over Florida. Florida is a very, very big state population-wise and geographically. And when the kids from Parkland, Florida, arrived in Tallahassee today, they had had to travel seven hours across the state to get there and they did.

And Florida state politics our Republican dominated now and their pro-gun Republican dominated now. The state has been among the most extreme, even experimental policy environments for the NRA but these kids already have succeeded in getting Florida`s Republican legislators to talk about something they otherwise would never be talking about.

The Republican governor of the state, Rick Scott, says that he will propose a package of reforms by Friday, by the day after tomorrow. We don`t know exactly what`s in it. It`s suspected that that package might include some minor legal changes in Florida that would subject long guns like rifles to the same restrictions that now apply to handguns in the state.

Specifically, they`re talking about setting an age limit. You have to be 21 years old to buy a long gun in Florida. Right now, you have to be 21 to buy a handgun in Florida.

They`re also talking about subjecting rifles to the same waiting period that applies to handguns. That waiting period is a whopping three days in Florida. So when I say these are modest changes to state law that they are considering, I`m not even doing justice to the word modest there. But for Florida Republicans, for Florida Republicans, given what they have been doing in recent years even these teeny tiny little changes might be considered radical reform.

Veteran Florida political reporter Marc Caputo writing for politico.com today says, quote, until last week`s shooting, any of these proposals from Republican leadership would have been unthinkable in the Florida legislature. Caputo today calling the state of Florida a laboratory, a longtime laboratory for the National Rifle Association saying, quote, for years, the NRA has scored win after win in this gun shaped state.

But these kids, the kids from the school that just got shot up the proud Eagles and these kids from all over south Florida and the rest of the state, they have flooded out of their schools. These kids who are better at arguing on this subject and most adults I have ever heard in my life, they seem to believe, they seem to be determined that they are going to turn this around. They`re going to win something.

It is heartbreaking to even think about betting against them given what they have just been through. But we`ll see. The pressure is on in a big way from these kids today and apparently the clock is ticking at least in Florida. That promised package of reforms from the pro-gun Republican governor is supposedly going to come the day after tomorrow and so the proof will be in the pudding very quickly, in Florida.

At the federal level, for the country, as a longtime observer of these sorts of fights, I feel right now like it is hard to know what to -- what to believe about what is really happening. It`s hard to know what to believe and I can tell you why in just a second.

But I can also tell you that something very real and very emotional happened right in the middle of the White House today and it was unavoidable, it was a show-stopping and that`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: After a year or so of covering this new president and this new administration, I have found in general that it is always a safer bet to report on what they`re doing rather than what they`re saying. On this show, we sort of have a staff mantra about this a silent movie. That`s the role, treat them as a silent movie, just watch what they do know, what they say.

You know, all good rules have their exceptions, but I think what we`re seeing right now in the wake of what happened in Parkland, Florida, is an example of why that rule has some weight. After the massacre in Parkland, you may have seen that this is part of what the president said should be done in in response.

The president said online, we must now focus on strengthening background checks. Background checks for people who want to buy guns. That`s what he has said.

"L.A. Times" today did a good job rounding up of what the president has actually done on that subject since he`s been in office. Again, saying versus doing. Since President Trump took office, his administration has moved aggressively on multiple fronts to weaken the background check system for guns. The Trump administration has narrowed the legal definitions that define someone as ineligible to buy a gun narrowing those definitions means more people are eligible to buy guns.

One way to be disqualified from buying a gun as if you are a fugitive from justice, right? That makes sense. If you`re wanted by the law, you shouldn`t be able to buy a gun under those circumstances. But the FBI used to consider people fugitives from justice if there were outstanding warrants for their arrest.

Now, thanks to the Trump administration and its changes, a fugitive from justice will only be disqualified from buying a gun if he or she has also fled across state lines to intentionally avoid prosecution. If you haven`t done that, then they don`t consider you a fugitive from justice anymore for the purposes of the background check.

Trump administration is also just thrown out tens of thousands of law enforcement records that used to be included in the background check system. Certain forms and aspects of mental illness also used to disqualify you from buying a gun. In the background check system, the Trump administration has narrowed those mental illness definitions. And somewhat famously, in the first substantive standalone legislation that was passed by the new Republican Congress and signed by new President Trump, they overtly went out of their way and standalone legislation to change the law so people who have been adjudicated seriously mentally ill by the Social Security Administration, they`re no longer included in the background check system at all.

And if that wasn`t enough, quote, in his recently released budget for the coming fiscal year, President Trump proposed slashing millions of dollars from the budget for the background check system. So, that is what they are doing, but that`s there -- those are their actions, which is very important to know when you see that same president saying what he really wants to do is strengthen the background check system. That narrative from him and those actions by him, they don`t tell two conflicting stories, they tell one story. They tell the story of what he`s doing while he wants to convince you otherwise.

Now, the president also made headlines last night when he said he would ask the Justice Department to consider regulations regarding bump stocks, one of these aftermarket modifications you can strap on to your semi-automatic rifle to make it fire so fast, it essentially functions like a machine gun. The president`s remarks on that subject made headlines but you should know that in terms of what he actually asked to happen, he requested the Justice Department to come up with regulations around these.

Well, the Justice Department has already considered regulating those kinds of devices. Dianne Feinstein, the author of the Clinton-era assault rifle ban which is allowed to expire during the George W. Bush years, today, she released this letter from five years ago, reminding everyone that Democrats have been asking for years for DOJ to promulgate regulations to stop these add-ons and accessories that make semi-automatic rifles fire like their automatic.

The Justice Department is already on record explicitly saying that they are not allowed legally to promulgate those kinds of regulations. It is not within their power. Congress has to do it.

So, if the president wants to ban bump stocks or trigger cranks or any of these other accessories, there is definitely a way to do it. It`s clear. Almost assuredly, the only way to do it is to ask the Congress which is controlled by his party to pass a law that would ban those things.

But despite the headlines from last night that the president has directed action against those accessories, there`s no signs of any legislation requests coming from the White House and there`s no sign that the Republican-controlled Congress plans to do that.

So, I mean, it`s always a good rule but at times like this maybe more than ever. Watch what they`re doing and what not what they`re saying.

That said, maybe none of us really knows what`s going to happen down the road here, because maybe all these kids protesting after the Parkland massacre are going to change everything. Look at all these kids, look at the funerals of all of these kids, look at Florida lawmakers visiting the school in Parkland, Florida, where this massacre happened, and these Florida kids bringing themselves to the legislature today where they were an unavoidable force.

Again, the "Miami Herald" calling this today the biggest demonstration at the state capitol in Florida in decades. And also at the White House, yes, watch what they do and not what they say, but also look at what is being said to this president. There was this awkward photo today from "The Associated Press" showing the notes that the president brought with him to talk to these kids and their families who have been through gun massacres in recent years. He could see number five there he`s telling the president to say I hear you.

But even with notes to help him know what to say and even with the best of intentions and even with the softest heart, I think it is hard to predict what happens to people and how it changes people when they have to face this kind of grief in person, when you`re in the presence of this kind of human emotional power. And so, I just want to show you a little bit of tape. You`re going to see two different people talk to the president today, this isn`t footage of the president talking, this is two people talking to him.

First one is a young man who is absolutely in the raw aftermath of what he has just been through and he makes this incredible statement, this incredible play from this very raw place and he is literally sitting next to and followed in his remarks by a mother who walked through her own version of this hell five years ago with her six-year-old son and in the five years since she has been fighting and learning and fighting and learning and fighting and learning.

And so, the spectrum of what you see from him and then what you see from her just watch this, watch him and then watch her. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAM ZEIFF, PARKLAND SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: My name is Sam Zeif. I`m a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, and I just want to take a second first to thank you for having me, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Madam Secretary.

I was on the second floor in that building, texting my mom, texting my dad, texting three of my brothers, that I was never going to see him again. And then it occurred to me and my 14-year-old brother was directly above me in that classroom where Scott Beigel was murdered. Scott Beigel got my brother in the class. He was the last kid to get back into that class.

And that`s why I`m here. I lost the best friend, was practically a brother, and I`m here to use my voice because I know he can`t. And I know he`s with me cheer me on to be strong, but it`s hard and to feel like this, it doesn`t even feel like a week. Time has stood still. To feel like this ever, I can`t -- I can`t feel comfortable in my country knowing that people have -- will have ever going to feel like this.

I want to feel safe at school you know senior year and junior big years for me when I turn my academics around, started connecting with teachers and I started actually enjoying school and now, I don`t know how I`m ever going to step foot on that place again.

I turned 18 the day after, woke up to the news that my best friend was gone and I don`t understand why I could still go in a store and buy a weapon of war an AR. I was reading today that a person 20 years old walked into a store and bought an AR-15 in five minutes with an expired ID. How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon? How do we not stop this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook? I`m sitting with a mother that lost its son it`s still happening.

In Australia, there was a shooting at a school in 1999. You know after that, they took a lot of ideas, they put legislation together and they stopped it. Can anyone here guess how many shootings there have been into schools since then in Australia? Zero.

We need to do something and that`s why we`re here. So, let`s be strong through the fallens who don`t have a voice to speak anymore, and let`s never let this happen again, please, please?

NICOLE HOCKLEY, SON DYLAN KILLED IN SANDY HOOK MASSACRE: Mr. President, the Vice President, Madam Secretary, my story is far too well known. I had two sons who were at Sandy Hook school, and my eldest who was eight at the time survived and my six-year-old son Dylan did not. And I have been working tirelessly on this issue for over five years now.

The organization that I helped lead, Sandy Hook Promise, is very focused on keeping kids safe at school because no parent should go through this. Every parent who sends their kid to school should know without any question in their mind that they`re going to be coming home that day.

This is not a difficult issue. You`re absolutely right. There are solutions and this administration has the ability to put them in place and after Sandy Hook, they said -- this -- we wouldn`t let this happen again and yet it has continued to happen for five years.

How many more deaths who can we take as a country? How many more teenagers and 6 and 7-year-olds can we allow to die? Don`t let that happen anymore on your watch.

There are things that you can do right now, mental health you mentioned earlier, funding for that would be very much appreciated. The Stop School Violence Act, enabling prevention programs and reporting systems in schools across America it`s already passed through the House. It`s in the Senate right now, urge swift passage of that, that can get a lot of help to schools. There`s legislation available to you right now.

There are free training programs such as our Know the Science programs available across the states right now, you could mandate these sorts of programs. This is not difficult. These deaths are preventable.

And I implore you, consider your own children. You don`t want to be me. No parent does. And you have the ability to make a difference and save lives today. Please don`t waste this. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was this afternoon at the White House. Joining us now is Nicole Hockley. She`s the managing director at Sandy Hook Promise. She`s the mother of Dylan Hockley, who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting five years ago. Ms. Hockley was at the White House today for that listening session with President Trump.

Nicole, thank you for being here. It`s nice to see you. I`m sorry about these difficult circumstances.

HOCKLEY: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you.

MADDOW: What did you think of this event today at the White House? You were so articulate, that young man sitting next to you is so articulate, I can hardly stand it. What did you think of this event?

HOCKLEY: It`s heartbreaking to listen to survivors and victims share their stories, especially when they are so raw, but they are too articulating their needs very clearly and that`s why we need to listen. And I have to say I was incredibly encouraged by today`s listening session that the president opened the doors to the White House to victims from different tragedies and said come and talk to me, share your stories, share your experience and come to me with your ideas of solutions.

That is not something I had anticipated, so I am encouraged that if they are truly listening and they are open to hearing the variety of solutions that are out there, that maybe this is the time that we will see some change to truly happen.

MADDOW: You are incredibly good at talking about your own impossible story and about talking about this issue, and I was struck today in the midst of so many people`s raw testimony and so much emotion and so much feeling that you were being really, really concrete.

You kept saying these enabling phrases, you kept saying, there are things you can do right now. This is in your power. This is not difficult. You can do this specific thing. You can do this.

And I wondered, do you feel like people are stuck thinking that it`s harder than it actually is to make substantive changes that would make a difference?

HOCKLEY: Oh, yes, absolutely. I think so many people across our country think that this is a hopeless issue and that they`re helpless to do anything about it. I think that they just think these shootings are part of life in America and that other than calling their senator or congressman, there`s nothing they can do and it`s just not true. There are so many things that we can do in our schools and communities and there are so many things we can do at a state and federal level, we need to focus on those real solutions and these common-sense solutions that aren`t about taking away guns or aren`t about giving everyone more guns because right now, we have a problem where we have over 300 million guns in this country, they`re not going away.

So, let`s deal with that, keep that on the table, say how are we going to ensure appropriate access therefore, how are we going to recognize the signs of someone who`s at risk and ensure that they can`t get their hands on a weapon so that they hurt themselves? That -- those are real solutions. No one is pro-gun violence. No one is pro-school violence. So let`s focus on what do we need to do to keep our kids safe if we can`t do anything about taking away guns.

MADDOW: On that point about access -- people having access to the hundreds of millions of guns that already exist in our country. I think that`s a -- I mean, A, you`re spot on obviously in terms of the way that you`re describing the reality, and then when we get to talking about how people have access to weapons, that`s when we get very quickly into things like the national background check system.

I just a moment ago highlighted the contrast between the president saying he wants to strengthen the background check system and some of the things that have happened just in the past year at the federal level to weaken it, to thin it out, to put more holes in it.

Do you feel like it`s possible -- even with all of the heat around the gun issue in general, do you think it`s possible that there is a common-sense, increasing background checks solution that could avoid some of the super contrary Second Amendment politics that tend to stymie these things, specifically on those background checks?

HOCKLEY: Yes, I think that there`s a lot -- I mean the president today was talking about comprehensive background checks that goes a little bit further than what I believe is currently on the table, which is the Fix NICS legislation, that goes part of the way that really doesn`t solve the issue as it stands at the moment.

I do think this moment is different than it has been for a couple years. Lawmakers are -- the GOP in particular are feeling pressure from their constituents in a different way and their younger constituents. So, this is -- this is a moment for change. We can look to background checks -- comprehensive background checks.

We can look to extreme protect risk protection orders. We can look to other forms of gun safety regulation and reform to ensure appropriate access and we can look at what we can do to help people before they ever get to that point, that they that they want to hurt themselves or someone else.

MADDOW: Nicole Hockley, managing director at Sandy Hook Promise, which is an incredibly constructive organization about everything. It`s practical and constructive, as well as being pretty inspiring.

Nicole Hockley, the mother of Dylan Hockley, who is killed in the Sandy Hook shooting five years ago, really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you for advocacy.

HOCKLEY: Thank you, Rachel.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We have two mysteries tonight that we are puzzling over the first mystery has to do with a single piece of paper that was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. today. You see there in that big beautiful old- school font "sealed".

That single piece of paper turned up today in a binder in the court clerk`s office in D.C. federal court. Now, we know that that binder that particular binder is routinely updated with new criminal charges related to any number of different cases being heard in that courthouse. So, because of which binder it turned up in, we think that sealed filing is something to do with new criminal charges. But we can`t tell for sure.

The other hint is the number that`s right at the top of the page there. It`s -- you see it up in the upper right, 17-CR-201. That is the case number for U.S. versus Paul J. Manafort and Richard W. Gates. That`s Robert Mueller special counsel`s office case against the Trump campaign chair and his deputy.

With the sudden appearance of that sealed document marked with their case number, in the new charges binder, in the courthouse today, everybody, wanted to know what that was about. We`ve got a big burst of new speculation today about what that means, that sealed filing could obviously mean new charges have been filed against Paul Manafort and/or Rick Gates. It could mean charges have been filed against new defendants in their case, meaning new people could have been added as defendants to the case that is already pending against Manafort and Gates.

I could also be what they call a criminal information, which is the document that usually precedes a guilty plea in a case.

Lots of speculation recently that Rick Gates is going to change to a guilty plea sometime very soon. So, maybe that`s what this is. We don`t know, it could be any of those things, but now, everybody is watching that case and that binder in that courtroom like hawks watch mice, because something is clearly happening there that may be a big turn in that case.

But oh wait there`s more. That story`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Like I said, two mysteries. The first is this sealed single page document was shown up in federal court today suggesting new charges maybe or maybe a plea agreement in special counsel Robert Mueller`s case against Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates. Lots of speculation on that in the press today naturally.

I`m wondering when professionals see a filing like that, when former prosecutors see a filing like that, do they know what something like that is likely to mean even when the rest of us don`t? So, that`s one. We`ll get there in a second.

Here`s the other mystery though another development that I think we need some professional help with. If you had your ear to the ground on the political right today, you will have heard new rumblings coming out of the conservative media saying that Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn should unpled, he should withdraw his guilty plea in the Robert Mueller case against him Mike Flynn of course pled guilty in December to lying to the FBI he simultaneously agreed to cooperate with the special counsels investigation.

These new calls on the right that Mike Flynn should withdraw that guilty plea, they appear to spring from something that the judge just did in Mike Flynn`s case. The judge in Flynn`s case just issued an order, this order that it doesn`t say anything specific about the case against Flynn but it reasserts to the prosecutors, to special counsel Robert Mueller`s prosecutors that they have the responsibility under law to hand over to Flynn`s defense counsel any evidence they`ve come across in the course of their investigation which turns out to be favorable to Mike Flynn in this case.

So, the judge made this order, reminder you have to hand over any culprit or evidence to the defense, and I think this is the second time the judge has made that sort of a reminder to prosecutors in the Flynn case. Is it important that the judge has made that kind of an order? Is it a red flag of some kind that the prosecution`s done something wrong? Does it mean that Mike Flynn should withdraw his guilty plea, which is the new rumbling on the right? If he did want to withdraw his guilty plea would that even be an option for him?

Joining us now is Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney who has worked with James Comey and with Robert Mueller in the past, a former chief of staff at the FBI.

Chuck, thank you for being here. Much appreciated.

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

Let me ask you first about this sealed document that we saw filed today under the case number that applies to the Manafort and Gates case. We`re told that this is filed in such a way like almost geographically in such a way that should make us believe that this is a new -- these are new charges or that there`s some this is something related to the charges in the case. How should we see that? What do you make of that?

ROSENBERG: I think that`s probably right, Rachel, assuming it`s not a clerical error and they got the number at the top wrong. It`s probably as you said earlier, either another defendant or new charges or both, hard to say for sure. I`m confident we`ll see it soon.

MADDOW: And what do you mean by soon? I know that there`s complicated arguments and lots of different reasons why these things get filed under seal and then they eventually get unsealed? What would you expect or is there any reason to have any sort of estimation as to the kind of time frame on when we might find out what that`s about?

ROSENBERG: Yes, well, if the reporting is accurate that Mr. Gates is close to a plea agreement, that might trigger the unsealing of this document. Let me explain further. He would plead guilty presumably to one of the accounts in the existing indictment and if the prosecutors added new charges against Mr. Manafort, what we may be unsealing, what we may be seeing soon are those additional charges. Hard to know for sure.

MADDOW: On this matter of Mike Flynn -- this is something that I`m reacting to both in terms of this order that I`ve seen from the judge. The judge appears to have filed this order or issued this order on his -- on his own say. So, it wasn`t -- it doesn`t seem appear to have been a response from anything else going on in the case at least as much as we can tell from the public record.

It has been responded to on the political right by a lot of people saying that this means there`s a real problem in the Flynn prosecution. He should withdraw his guilty plea. There`s something wrong in the Flynn case.

How do you see this matter?

ROSENBERG: It had much ado about nothing. Let me explain that as well, Rachel.

Many judges around the country, many federal district court judges, have a standard discovery order that they enter in every single case. And my understanding that Judge Sullivan has a similar discovery order. In other words, in every case, regardless of its posture, he will file an order telling the government to make sure that it abides by its discovery obligations, that it provides exculpatory or impeachment information to the defense.

I -- my understanding is that he updated that order, that he does that from time to time. So, I don`t think there`s anything to it frankly and I`m sure the government will abide by it.

MADDOW: And there`s no indication in him doing this that the government has proven itself in -- to be -- to need this kind of reminder because there`s been some sort of misbehavior.

ROSENBERG: Well, prosecutors know this stuff. There`s no indication that there`s been any misbehavior. There`s no indication that the prosecutors have failed in any way to meet their obligations and, by the way, Rachel there`s absolutely no indication that Mr. Flynn wants to withdraw his guilty plea and even if he did, that is an awfully difficult thing to do.

MADDOW: One last quick question for you, Chuck, on the matter of Alex van der Zwaan, who was -- who pled guilty yesterday. It was said in the transcript -- in the hearing and we have the transcript of it today. One of the prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, said that there was no cooperation agreement to go along with his guilty plea. He`s just pleading guilty.

Should that tell us anything substantive about whether or not Mr. Van Der Zwaan has been talking to prosecutors about other aspects of this case?

ROSENBERG: Well, the fact that he doesn`t want to cooperate doesn`t mean that he`s not going to be compelled to give information. Important distinction between cooperating and being compelled, it seems like he doesn`t want to be helpful. That happens a lot in all sorts of cases all around the country all the time, but once he is sentenced and his conviction is final, what the prosecutors can do, Rachel, is very simply immunized him from any other prosecution from any other crime he may have committed and then compel him to testify.

So, whether he wants to cooperate or not, they can still get information from him.

MADDOW: Very important point.

Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney, former senior FBI official and clear thinker and speaker -- thank you very much, Chuck. Nice to have you here.

ROSENBERG: Thank you, Rachel.

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

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MADDOW: You know when you`re a kid and you have a difficult question one that your parents don`t really want to answer or talk to you about and you go ask your mom and your mom says go ask your dad, and then you go ask your dad and your dad says go ask your mom. That happened to us yesterday.

Last night, we asked one part of the U.S. government for information about something our government did. Their response was that we should go ask Russia, seriously. We asked about something our government should know, something that is our government`s business, something that was our government`s decision, and the U.S. government told us yesterday, you need to go ask the government of Russia.

Today, that story got much, much weirder than that. The update is next. It`s so weird.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: This story is getting so weird. It was nuts last night. Now, today, it`s more than nuts.

All right. Here it is, three weeks before the Trump inauguration, in one of his final acts, President Obama hit Russia for interfering in our election, sanctions against 35 suspected Russian spies and two Russian intelligence services, including their military intelligence agency the GRU. That`s the agency that our intelligence community said was behind some of the attacks on our election. They say the GRU ordered the attacks on the Democratic Party.

In addition to the GRU as an organization, President Obama named four intelligence officials from the GRU as having been individually involved in that attack. It included -- that list included this guy who heads up the GRU.

And "The New York Times" write-up from the day of the Obama sanctions, reporter David Sanger pointed out, maybe that was just symbolic. Quote: Despite the international fallout and political repercussions surrounding the announcement, it`s not clear how much effect the sanctions will have. After all, GRU officials rarely travel to the U.S. and rarely come here.

So, that`s when this started getting weird, because at the end of last month, Russia started publicly bragging that the head of one of its intelligence agencies, the SVR, had just traveled to the U.S. We haven`t heard anything about that from our own government, but soon we learned that he did and he wasn`t alone. He came here with the head of the FSB, Russia`s equivalent of the FBI. They met with the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and the head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo. We had to learn about it first from the Kremlin.

But then there was this other bit of reporting that the head of the GRU, the agency behind this specific part of the attack on our election, he`d also come. Quote, Current and former U.S. intelligence officials say they couldn`t recall so many heads of Russia`s espionage and security apparatus coming to Washington all at once.

So, we have been following this and trying to make sense of it ever since. One, it`s weird that all the Russian intelligence guys came to the U.S. all at once and our government didn`t say anything about it we had to learn about it from the Kremlin bragging about it.

But, two, there`s this practical and legal matter here. Of these three intelligence chiefs, two of them are sanctioned and can`t legally come to the U.S. on their own steam. The guy from the SVR, the foreign intelligence service, he`s sanctioned. And the guy from the GRU, from military intelligence, also sanctioned.

We know how the SVR guy got in. He was here to meet with Pompeo and Coats so they got him a waiver basically to come in. They got him a visa.

But the GRU guy, he`s also sanctioned and nobody admits to meeting with him while he was here. So, if he really did come to the U.S. as a sanctioned person, I mean, somebody would have had to make the case to the State Department that it was in our national interest to allow this guy into our country. Hey, let`s issue him a waiver. Who did that if he came into this trip?

So, we reached out to the State Department yesterday. Was this guy from the GRU here? Nobody admits to meeting with him. "The Washington Post" told us they stand by their reporting that the GRU guy was here. Was he here?

And we asked State, if he was here, how did he get in? He`s sanctioned, did they give him a waiver to get in or what?

For the second part of our question, they said under federal law, they can`t discuss issuing visas. As to the first question whether or not the guy was here, they gave us one of the weirdest responses I`ve seen, a State Department spokesperson yesterday told us to call Russia. They literally referred us to the Russian government on this matter.

Hi, this is Rachel. Can I speak to Vladimir?

The head of the chair was sanctioned. He can`t just book a flight to the U.S. and wander around D.C. on his own. It was a strange response.

Today, we tried to get more information and a senior U.S. government official now tells us, quote: Reports that the GRU head was in the United States are inaccurate.

So, yesterday, they called us, call Russia. Today, they`re saying actually he wasn`t here.

Whew, I guess. We did reach out to the Russian embassy in the U.S. We haven`t heard back I`ll let you know if we do. Watch this space.

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

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."

Good evening, Lawrence.

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