Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: February 26, 2018 Guest: Ken Vogel, Jim Himes, Benjamin Wittes
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Monday.
So, here`s an unexpected twist in the news. On Friday, of course, you`ll remember the deputy chairman of the Trump presidential campaign, Rick Gates, he changed his plea in federal court to guilty. He previously had been pleading not guilty. He had been fighting dozens of felony charges.
But with his guilty plea on Friday, the government agreed not to pursue the charges they had previously brought against him. He pled guilty instead to two new counts including lying to the FBI and in so doing, he signed a very thorough cooperation agreement which compels him to become a cooperating witness for Robert Mueller`s special counsel`s office.
When all the previous charges were dropped against Rick Gates in exchange for his guilty plea on the two new charges, Mueller`s prosecutors basically took off the shelf the earlier indictments in which Rick Gates and Paul Manafort had been charged together and they rewrote them so that now, all those charges are just against Paul Manafort. We`ve now got new indictments that are against Manafort alone. They incorporate all the charges that he and Gates used to be facing together plus a few new ones.
We are expecting Paul Manafort to be arraigned in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday of this week, the day after tomorrow, and then we`re expecting him to be arraigned again in a different federal court in Virginia on Friday because he is facing dozens of felony charges in both of those jurisdictions. The dozens of felony charges that are now pending against the Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort -- they obviously represent a significant legal challenge for him, himself. But the way the charges are laid out, they may indicate potential problems for other people as well.
There was, for example, a bunch of reporting over the weekend quoting former European heads of state all denying that they knew the source of the funds that they had been paid from when Manafort, according to the indictment, secretly spent 2 million Euros paying all these politicians to lobby for his clients in Ukraine. The indictment also mentioned unnamed co-conspirators at various banks and lending institutions, people who allegedly worked with Rick Gates and Paul Manafort on some of their money laundering and bank fraud schemes.
So, somewhere out there, there`s a person who recognizes this e-mail, right? Who knows he or she once sent an e-mail to Gates and Manafort when they allegedly cooking up these fake documents to get Manafort, one of these multimillion dollar loans. I mean, somebody somewhere knows that this was their e-mail. Quote, looks doctored. Can`t someone just do a clean Excel doc and PDF to me? Two questions marks.
Somebody recognizes that as their own work. Whoever that person is knows that Robert Mueller`s prosecutors consider him or her to be a conspirator working at Lender B. That person also knows that Robert Mueller has that exact e-mail, right? So we know the trouble that Rick Gates is in and how that is changing now that he`s pled guilty. We know the trouble that Paul Manafort is in with these dozens of felonies pending against him.
But there are other people, other conspirators who are clearly known to Mueller and his investigators whose identities at this point are known to the prosecutors but they have not been made known to the public. And that brings us to the issue of the Federal Savings Bank which is called lender D in the pending indictment against Paul Manafort.
Right before Manafort and Gates joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 when they were scrambling for some reason to get their hands on millions dollars in cash, including, according to the indictment, resorting to doctored documents and other illegal means to try to get these loans. At that time, there was this little bank in Chicago, the Federal Savings Bank, that as of the summer of 2016 started talking about doing loans with Paul Manafort and they eventually coughed up an enormous amount of money to Paul Manafort, $16 million, despite the fact they were a small bank that catered to military veterans and Paul Manafort is not a veteran, despite the fact that other lenders were turning down Paul Manafort because his paperwork and his financials weren`t passing the smell test.
NBC News and "The Wall Street Journal" have both now reported that those gigantic cash loans to Paul Manafort, the $16 million from Federal Savings Bank, that was about a quarter of the total assets that bank had available to loan, which makes it unusual set of loans in the first place. NBC news and "The Wall Street journal" are both reporting Robert Mueller and his prosecutors are investigating those loans in particular to see if they might have been a quid pro quo. The founder, the chairman, the chief executive officer of the bank reportedly, he was under the impression that Donald Trump was about to name him secretary of the army. He went so far as to reportedly contact the Pentagon multiple times to try to arrange briefings for himself for this job which he assumed he was about to get.
Mueller`s prosecutors reportedly looking into whether those $16 million in loans might have been basically payment for that expected job offer. According to NBC News, quote: The loans to Manafort were questioned by other officials at that bank and, quote, at least one of the bank employees who felt pressured into approving the deals is now cooperating with investigators.
So, ever since that reporting came out and then the federal savings bank loans to Paul Manafort ended up in his indictment we`ve been trying to figure out like how tight that case is, not just if there are employees of this bank who are cooperating with Mueller`s investigators. We`ve been trying to figure out if the head Steve Calk himself, the head of the bank, the alleged hopeful recipient of this job offer in exchange for the loans, we`ve been trying to figure out if he might be cooperating with investigators too, or if there`s anything else we can find out about his personal role in approving this money going out the door from his bank to Paul Manafort. So, we`ve been trying to figure that out. It turns out, so is his wife.
The investigative unit, the local ABC station in Chicago, which is where the bank is based, they now report that this jumbo multimillion dollar loans to Paul Manafort, those loans have a starring role in the divorce proceedings that are currently ongoing in Cook County, Illinois, between the head of that bank, Steve Calk, and his soon-to-be ex-wife. During their divorce proceedings this past year, court records show that the estranged wife of Steve Calk, the head of the bank, a guy who thought he was going to be secretary of the army, his wife demanded as part of their divorce proceedings that she be allowed to see the entire loan file from Federal Savings Bank, quote, for any and all loans made to Paul Manafort.
Now I`m not exactly sure why that would be material to this couple`s divorce proceedings. It feels like none of our business, right? But it is apparently part of the legal strategy in that divorce that Steve Calk`s estranged wife is raising questions about the lending practices of this bank under her husband`s leadership with a particular focus on all that money that he gave to Paul Manafort. So, Steve Calk`s wife subpoenaed the Manafort loan documents from that bank. Steve Calk`s divorce lawyers tried to quash those subpoenas from the wife. It`s a Cook County judge who is overseeing these divorce proceedings.
We`re not sure if the documentation of the Manafort loans did, in fact, get handed over as part of the divorce, but now, in addition to the federal case against the Donald Trump for president campaign chair, there`s also the possibility that these key records from these loans in question, at the heart of that case, those records may eventually become public through divorce court, which is nuts.
Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, told us here on Friday night that he believes Paul Manafort`s legal strategy right now in part at least is to basically all but openly beg President Trump for a pardon in this case. That may be true, honestly but given all the different jurisdictions that are reportedly looking at Manafort right now, it may be too late for a presidential pardon to keep him out of serious trouble. There are reports now of nonfederal criminal investigation noose Manafort and his various financial dealings in multiple nonfederal jurisdictions.
Separate and apart from the fact some of these details may come out in a divorce proceeding in Chicago. But, I mean, regardless, though, a presidential pardon can only help you with federal matters. It can`t help you with any other legal proceeding and, in fact, in some ways, it might hurt your prospect of prevailing against charges that are brought, say, in state court. So, we`re going to have more on that ahead tonight.
We`re also going to be talking about the unexpectedly detailed and revealing declassified memo that was just released this weekend from House Democrats about the FBI`s counterintelligence investigation into the Russia attack and the Trump campaign. There`s a lot more information in that document than anybody expected to see.
But before we get to all that tonight, before we get to that story, I want to go back to something scary that happened just a couple weeks before the presidential election in the fall of 2016. It happened in late October. It happened in New York City at LaGuardia Airport. And NBC reporter Vaughn Hillyard actually ended up right in the middle of this scary incident and it was kind of an amazing night here.
He came right to our studio from the airport after it happened. Here was some of our breaking news footage on that night from that night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: As Chris and I were just talking about there in the last hour a plane carrying Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, in fact, skidded off the runway at New York`s LaGuardia Airport. Now, the important bottom line here is that only Governor Pence himself but everybody else on the plane is safe.
This is what the plane did to the tarmac at LaGuardia as it slid off the runway. I didn`t know that happened when you slid off the runway. All the air traffic at LaGuardia was suspended for over an hour in the wake of this incident.
Joining us now is a man onboard that plane, NBC News campaign embed Vaughn Hillyard. He was on the plane when it slid off the runway tonight.
Vaughn, let me shake your hand. I`m glad you`re OK.
VAUGHN HILLYARD, NBC NEWS REPORTER: Thank you.
MADDOW: Were you scared?
HILLYARD: The crazy part this isn`t the first time -- well, the first time we`ve gone off the runway but we had a lot of shaky incidents in the past where hard impact, tough landings. The crazy was that originally, we had the hard impact and then we went for about two, three seconds, and that`s when we started to swerve off to the right and then, all of a sudden, came to a hard, crashing start. You could see that the road was oddly close to where the plane was at and --
MADDOW: The road with cars on it.
HILLYARD: The road with cars, the Circle K across the street. That`s when it became real. Yes.
MADDOW: So, when you say you were trying to get tape, you were filming as you were landing, is that because you were expecting a hard landing because you`ve had so many?
HILLYARD: It`s a joke. It`s a joke how long are we going to last?
MADDOW: You`re saying it`s become a joke how long we`re going to last, that the hard landings on the Pence campaign planes are so frequent and so notable that it`s a point of discussion among the press corps?
MADDOW: Have you only had bad landings in heavy weather --
HILLYARD: Nope. We landed in Ft. Dodge, Iowa, earlier and we had another rough landing where we see it and we actually came -- it felt like we came back up in the air where everybody held their breath for a second. You could see the blue sky again. And, of course, we didn`t go off the runway at that point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, that was -- that was the night that it happened. That was actually an hour after it happened. Vaughn Hillyard from NBC was on the plane as a member of the press corps. That plane went off the runway, skidded almost onto a highway. They closed down the airport after this landing. Vaughn was able to get out of there, get in a cab and come straight to the studio to tell us what happened.
What was amazing to me in that moment, obviously, we are all relieved that he and everybody else in the plane was fine. But he instantly, as soon as I asked him if he was OK, he instantly said, yes, it was scary but this happens all the time. He`d been traveling on the Pence campaign plane for our coverage of the election, and he said we`ve been having tons of hard landings. It`s been scary all along.
That was the night that it happened. By the following day "NBC Nightly News" was able to put together a really good portrait of what actually went wrong in that crash landing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: On the tarmac today, NTSB investigators were examining the mud covered landing gear of the charter plane that carried Governor Mike Pence. It was just before 8:00 p.m. on a rainy, windy night when the flight came in for a landing. Suddenly, trouble.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eastern stop! Stop Eastern!
REPORTER: The plane was too far down the runway.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have an emergency in the airport.
REPORTER: Onboard with Pence, NBC News campaign embed Vaughn Hillyard.
HILLYARD: As soon as the impact happened, you know, brace for impact, and we started to go and slide off, and that`s when we came to a complete halt.
REPORTER: The plane stopped just 300 feet from the highway, thanks to the crushable concrete arrester beds like this at the end of the runway.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. So that whole thing happened October 27th. So, it`s right before the presidential election.
A couple things about this incident. First of all, the NTSB did a full investigation and came to a very clear and damning conclusion what went wrong with that crash landing. Their determination was that it was clearly pilot error.
The first officer, so the co-pilot was at the controls as they were bringing the plane in for a landing. The errors started early. First, they reportedly flared the plane, which means they brought the nose of the plane up to slow it down. They started that maneuver too early. They started at an altitude almost twice as high as recommended for that plane.
First officer then touched the plane down way too far down the runway. Way too close to the end of the runway. This is a 7,000-foot runway. The officer didn`t put it down until they passed the 4,000-foot mark.
The NTSB said that was past the point the pilot should have abandoned the landing, pulled back up, circled the airport and come back in and try again. They didn`t do that. Once the landing started to go wrong and they didn`t try to take back off and land again, there were further errors as they tried to bring the plane to a halt.
According to the NTSB, the captain then tried to take control from of the airplane from the first officer, but the captain didn`t announce that`s what he or she was doing in that moment, and that resulted in the pilot and first officer both simultaneously trying to control the plane during this fouled up landing and they were apparently giving opposite directional inputs to the plane. They were giving opposite instructions to the plane while it was skidding off the end of the runway and off towards the side and towards that active highway.
They reduced the throttle too slow. They deployed the speed brakes too slow. It was -- it was bad. And the NTSB said this was pilot failure, pilot error.
The charter company for that flight later announced that they developed some new flight crew training to address the issues that were identified during that NTSB investigation. So, that`s one part of this. But the other part of it is what Vaughn Hillyard said that night and when he came into the studio right after getting off that plane, he said, yes, I was scared but this happens all the time. He said it was a running joke, dark humor among the press corps, that none of them would survive covering Mike Pence because the landings were so terrible.
They had so many hard landings and bouncing off the runways. It didn`t feel safe to anybody who was on that plane. It was a consistently unsafe feeling environment according to reporters who were embedded with vice presidential candidate Mike Pence.
Well, it turns out that all happened at the end of October. The month before, the month before that crash landing at LaGuardia, that same charter company running the Mike Pence flights for the Trump campaign, they had another trip through the headlines. In September 2016, "The Guardian" newspaper reported that the previous pilot they`d had flying the Mike Pence plane, he was wanted on violent felony charges.
This was a guy who had been -- who was the chairman of a pro-Trump law enforcement coalition in Florida. I don`t know if that`s why they decided to give him the plum job of flying Mike Pence around the country, but something about the vetting process to become Mike Pence`s pilot didn`t turn up the fact that this particular guy was currently facing violent felony charges for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. In 2015, he allegedly ran over a co-worker with his car on purpose three times, putting the guy in the hospital and seriously injuring him.
The Mike Pence pilot pled not guilty to those charges, but it turned out there was another similar case pending against him from 2014 in which, again, he was accused of deliberately driving into another person, this time on a motorcycle. Those incidents apparently, including the pending felony charges, those apparently weren`t a problem. Just didn`t pop in the vetting process when they were deciding who should fly Mike Pence and a whole bunch of beloved reporters around the country.
And that was the month before -- that was the month before -- they found out about that because of the press. They had to fire that guy the month before they ended up with a crew that overshot the runway, chewed up the asphalt, shut down LaGuardia Airport, while everybody yelled brace for impact and they hope they didn`t end up in the Circle K.
Man, I mean, whoever was running the Trump presidential campaign air fleet, that guy has a lot to answer for. Turns out he has landed on his feet. Axios.com first to report today that the guy who ran the Trump presidential campaign`s air fleet is now likely to be nominated to run the Federal Aviation Administration in the actual U.S. government, for all of us. Presumably that`s only because the guy who ran over the other guy three times in his car isn`t available. Maybe he`s going to be secretary of transportation.
And this is kind of a theme in the Trump Republican era. And there are a lot of scandals in this presidency and it is sometimes hard to focus on all the themes, but Donald Trump`s golf caddie is the White House director of social media now. His longtime bodyguard is the director of Oval Office operations. There he is with the pope.
Eric Trump`s wedding planner was put in charge of HUD for the northeastern United States. A member of the Trump household staff at Trump Tower, her husband ran a home contracting company called Steve`s tools in motion before he somehow ended up getting a job at EPA Region 2 headquarters in New York. This is the same president who named his bankruptcy lawyer ambassador to Israel.
A friend of his wife got a $26 million payout from the inaugural committee. That`s just slightly more than the inaugural committee spent on the actual contractor who actually runs the inauguration and has done so for decades. What did Melania Trump`s friend do on top of that and for more money? We don`t know, so many scandals. Who has time to chase something like that down?
There was a lady from "The Apprentice" who went on to the office of public liaison in the White House. While she worked there, she worked alongside Andrew Giuliani. I wonder how he got that job.
So now, you know, why not -- why not apply the same principle to the oversight of all American aviation? After the White House staff secretary was found to have served in that incredibly sensitive job for more than a year despite serious domestic violence allegations against him from his ex- wives which prevented him from getting a full security clearance, today was the first business day that the Trump White House was supposed to operate under Chief of Staff John Kelly`s new security clearance policy.
Today was supposed to be the first business day, the first day at work in the Trump White House where interim security clearances would be canceled, all access to sensitive materials would be cut off for anybody whose security clearance was -- has been pending since before last June without that person being able to get a permanent clearance. This clearly is the situation that describes both the president`s daughter and his son-in-law. But apparently, they are keeping their jobs with or without security clearance, regardless of whatever supposed policy is supposedly now in effect, regardless of the White House chief of staff, and regardless of any rules that we know of that apply to this type of sensitive material.
I mean, presidential daughter is not a job from which you can be fired. If that`s what you get hired to be, if White House daughter is senior White House official, how do you -- so what`s going to happen here? I mean, one thing we can be proud of in this moment in American history we have built something here for future generations.
In the future, the textbook explanation, the textbook case studies about nepotism, about a friends and family approach to governance, right? In the future, when there are after school specials about the Uzbekistanization of the American government and what`s wrong with that and why it doesn`t work and what could possibly go wrong, those stories will be crystal clear, no ambiguity because of what we`re living through now and thereby maybe future generations will figure out how to avoid this particular kind of mess.
MADDOW: Some breaking news just posted by "The New York Times." You know, I just referenced this in the A block. I swear to god I did not when I made the reference this news was about to break. I swear, cross my heart.
This is the headline: Melania Trump parts ways with advisor amid backlash over inaugural contract. This has just been posted by "The New York Times." Ken Vogel and Maggie Haberman are the reporters on this.
Just read you their lead. The First Lady Melania Trump has parted ways with an adviser after news about the adviser`s firm reaping $26 million in payments to help plan the Trump inauguration. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff has been friends with Mrs. Trump for years. She`d been working as a senior adviser to the Office of the First Lady. Mrs. Trump`s spokeswoman says now that the office of the first lady has severed its contract with Ms. Wolkoff.
According to two people with direct knowledge of the situation, the move was prompted by displeasure from the Trumps over the news that a firm created by Ms. Winston Wolkoff was paid nearly $26 million for event planning for Mr. Trump`s inauguration. Mr. Trump was also enraged to learn that Ms. Winston Wolkoff brought on a close friend, David Monn, to help plan inaguuaral events. Mr. Monn`s firm was paid $3.7 million. Ms. Winston Wolkoff is complaining about news coverage of her role in the inauguration, calling news coverage about her work, quote, completely unfair, but according to these reporters tonight from "The Times", she did not specify any errors.
Do we have Ken on the line right now? Have we been able to get him?
Joining us now by phone on unbelievably short notice is "New York Times" reporter Ken Vogel.
Kevin, thank you very much for joining us at the drop of a hat. Really appreciate it.
KEN VOGEL, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (via telephone): Hey, great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, I was just mentioning the unusual nature of this large payment and this amorphous contract as part of inaugural committee for this person who is a long-standing friend of Melania Trump, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. You at "The New York Times" were first to report about not only her key role in the inauguration, but the large size of the contract -- of the financial contract that she was paid, $26 million. Do you guys have any clarity as to what exactly she was paid for?
VOGEL: Yes. Well, you know, the only thing we can only go is what we`re told by sources who are sort of familiar with what went on by the inaugural committee, because, of course, the inaugural committee is registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit and it only has to file very sort of vague information about its finances and even that is after a significant lag time from when the spending and fund-raising actually occurred. So, we only had this document showing how it spent its money in the loosest of ways, in the most cursory sort of detail last week, even though it`s more than a year and a half after the inauguration, and -- or more than a year after up to the inauguration.
And there`s no detail about what was this $26 million contract went for. But what we understand is that she did -- Stephanie Wilson Wolkoff did a lot of subcontracting to various other vendors. So, we`re told her that firm handled everything from paying for venues, rental venues, to table settings, to arranging Instagram filters and even paying for satellite feeds for broadcasts for networks to carry the proceedings from the inauguration. She says, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff says, that her firm only got to keep $1.62 million -- only $1.62 million, and even that was divided up amongst her 15 or so employees.
I think even if you do the math, you would conclude that`s probably not too bad for just a couple months of work.
MADDOW: And there`s some unusual details about this. I mean, the firm set up by Ms. Winston Wolkoff that was eventually paid all of this money, even if most of it was just passed through, is a firm that was set up only one month before the inauguration, set up in December of 2016. Then there`s the fact that back to I think maybe even back to Truman, the major contractor that runs inaugural events has been the same major contracting firm, and they get the same gig every year through Democrats and Republicans first inaugurations and second inaugurations.
They were also contracted by the Trump inauguration. They ended up getting paid about as much money as Melania Trump`s friend, but we know what they did because they always do the inauguration and there`s the sort of -- it`s not exactly a no-bid contract but they`re sort of the sole source contractor for these things for the United States for decades.
VOGEL: Yes, that`s right. This is a firm that has been paid to do previous inaugurations, like you said. It`s a firm that sort of specializes in producing trade shows. So, they`re more of a known entity and this firm is not only a known entity but didn`t even exist, you know, more than I think it was six weeks before the inauguration. So, it was clearly set up by this person.
We can report and we did report that, in fact, Melania Trump did introduce this woman, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, to Tom Barrack, who is the longtime friend of Donald Trump who was the chair of the inaugural committee. But people say -- people close to the inauguration say that it was actually Mr. Barrack`s decision and not Mrs. Trump`s decision to ultimately hire Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.
That said, we also had other sources saying Stephanie Wilson Wolkoff did throw around Melania Trump`s name both with transition officials and later when she went into the East Wing as a special government employee, as a senior adviser to Melania Trump. She continued to behave in this way in what her colleagues and associates saw as an effort to get her way. She would sort of flaunt her connection to Melania Trump.
Obviously, Melania Trump and Donald Trump concluded for whatever reason this relationship was problematic for them whether it was because of the bad press from the inaugural to the $26 million contract on the inaugural committee or something else. She is no longer working even as a volunteer for the east wing and for the office of the first lady.
MADDOW: Ken Vogel reporting for "The New York Times," along with his colleague Maggie Haberman, Ken, thank you for joining us so quickly tonight with this breaking news story. Congratulations on the scoop.
VOGEL: Yes, thank you. It was a pleasure as always.
MADDOW: All right. Again, that breaking news tonight from "The New York Times" just posted. The first lady has parted ways, the first lady`s office has severed its relationship with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a figure who first surfaced in national news when it emerged that a company she had just set up weeks before was paid $26 million, a quarter of the money that was raised and spent on behalf of the Trump inauguration.
MADDOW: We had previously known that a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser named Carter Page had been approached by the FBI in 2013 because they wanted to talk to him about a Russian spy ring operating in New York City. It was a spy ring that had tried to recruit Carter Page as a Russian intelligence agent. Now, we knew that from the criminal case that the Justice Department eventually brought against the Russian spies in the case. We knew that before.
This weekend, we learned something new. This weekend, we learned that Carter Page was approached again by the FBI, again about his links to Russian intelligence but this time it happened a few years later. It happened in March 2016, which is the exact time that he joined up as a foreign policy adviser to the Donald Trump for president campaign.
The FBI was meeting with Carter Page that month to talk to him once again about his ties to Russian intelligence. Really? That`s new.
We learned that new information this weekend in this memo, declassified, released by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. This memo is the by-product of a lot of fighting and diversionary stuff that has happened on the intelligence committee as its chairman, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes has tried to turn what is supposed to be Congress` own Russia investigation instead into an indictment of the FBI and the Justice department.
In the end, though, regardless of what the origin story was for this memo, what we got when we got this Democratic memo is just a whole bunch of straight up new information we didn`t have before. We learned about that FBI meeting with Carter Page, the same month that he signed up with the Trump campaign. We learned the exact date of the start of the FBI`s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign. It started on July 31st, 2016. Good to know.
We learned that for all the Republican efforts to make the Christopher Steele dossier some kind of scandal at the heart of the Russia investigation, the Justice Department presented to a court in its surveillance warrant investigation for Carter Page, quote, additional information through multiple independent sources that corroborated Steele`s reporting.
You want to know what that corroboration was? Well, in the memo, it looks like this. Bullet point, redacted, redacted, footnote 12, bullet point, redacted, redacted. Two fully redacted paragraphs followed by a third which reads, quote, pages, blank, in Moscow with blank, senior Russian officials, blank, as well as meetings with Russian officials, blank, blank, blank, blank. Footnote 13.
So, there`s a lot here that`s absolutely new information for us trying to figure out what`s going on in our country, but there`s also, interestingly, an explicit allegation that this Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, there`s an explicit allegation that he lied under oath to the House Intelligence Committee when he testified there in November. So, what exactly did he lie about? And if he did lie about it and the committee knows it for sure, what happens to that information? What happens next?
The answer to that is here next.
MADDOW: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee this weekend were finally able to get declassified and released a memo that they wrote about the FBI`s counterintelligence investigation into the Russia scandal.
Joining us now is Congressman Jim Himes, member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much for being here.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good evening, Rachel.
MADDOW: I know it was a pain and a long process and a big fight to try to get this memo declassified after the earlier Republican memo had been declassified. Are you happy -- are you happy that this is out? Are you satisfied in terms of what was redacted and what was released to the public?
HIMES: Yes, I am. I mean, I sort of chuckled because, you know, of course, the process to get the Republican memo out was all of, you know, 72 hours or so without -- you know, over the objections of the FBI. We wanted to be a little bit more careful. We wanted to give the FBI and DOJ, the Department of Justice, an opportunity to make sure we weren`t disclosing additional classified information.
And, you know, lo and behold it got released on Saturday night. Not your most intense news hours. I know what`s behind the redactions, and the good news is that the information we needed to get out there and tell the story that the Nunes memorandum was misleading at best, you can read our memorandum and it`s pretty esoteric, it`s pretty technical. But, you know, you can read our memorandum and see that the Nunes memorandum was just an attempt to slime the federal bureau of investigation, the Department of Justice without any real basis.
MADDOW: There`s a lot of information specifically about foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, Carter Page, because the whole basis of the Nunes memo was the application to a court for a surveillance warrant against him.
But in explaining the further context that you guys put into that warrant and the application for that surveillance, there`s a couple of very blunt statements. There`s a couple places in this memo where information that is redacted, which is about what Carter Page did in Moscow, is then followed up with a blunt statement like this. Quote, this information contradicts Carter Page`s testimony to the committee on November 2nd, 2017. And there`s a whole bunch more redactions.
This also contradicts his sworn testimony to our committee. A lot of this we can`t see the exact details because it is redacted, but there`s a clear statement here that Carter Page lied under oath. Is that the way that we should be reading that? Is that what this means here?
HIMES: Well, I chuckle a little bit because I was in the interview of Carter Page and I`ve got to tell you, in the history of congressional interviews of witnesses this one was unique, and I`m not disclosing anything I shouldn`t disclose because the Carter Page testimony pursuant to an agreement with him is available to the public. Look, in the testimony that he gave to us, he contradicted himself in that testimony. You know, we were asking and, again, you can look this up, about these trips to Russia and did he actually meet with anybody important. No, no, no. Oh yes, except for those people in the most senior levels of the Russian government.
And the point here, Rachel, is that, you know, the premise of the Nunes memorandum, of the Republican memorandum, is that there was, you know, an abuse of the legal system by the FBI because they`re biased against Donald Trump. Now, you remember what happened in the lead-up to the election in terms of what Jim Comey was talking about in terms of investigation. So, you start out with that being crazy. But then Carter Page, if he`s going to be your victim, he`s going to be your victim that was sort of innocently doing and going about his business when the FBI -- look, this is a guy who as you pointed out the FBI had interest in for years, a guy who describes himself, describes himself as an adviser to the Kremlin.
You know, I would argue, I guess, Devin Nunes did not maybe pick the most lily white of people to say the FBI took an inappropriate interest in.
MADDOW: If the intelligence committee is aware of information that Mr. Page did lie under oath, does the committee pursue that? Does the Department of Justice pursue that? I mean, it`s a crime to lie to Congress.
HIMES: Yes, yes, and again, this is a little bit of a hard one because, you know, it was in his own testimony to us, he contradicted his own testimony to us. I`ve never gotten a bead on Carter Page. You wonder whether he`s actually -- you know, whether he`s just -- you know, what he`s actually doing.
Look, we`ve got bigger issues to go after. I won`t try to prejudge what the chairman or the ranking member might try to do. But, you know, as you know Steve Bannon came before the committee and had this incredibly expansive claim of executive privilege, couldn`t even ask him about the transition when the president wasn`t president. So, we do have some pretty big issues to deal with. I`m not sure that Carter Page`s contradictions are at the top of the list.
MADDOW: Congressman Jim Himes, member of the House Intelligence Committee -- thank you, sir. I appreciate having you here tonight.
HIMES: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. I will tell you the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow is going to hear from a very important, very powerful Trump administration official. Tomorrow, they`re going to get Hope Hicks. Yes, it will be behind closed doors.
We`ll still try to figure out what happens. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Quote, so I`ve been receiving a jillion calls from the press. Am I at liberty to help them understand it? To explain what the provisions mean?
This comes from the very end of the transcript from a federal court hearing that happened on Friday, the court hearing where Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates pled guilty to a pair of felonies in the special counsel investigation and he agreed to start cooperating with the special counsel.
At the very, very end of that Friday hearing, his lawyer, the lawyer for Rick Gates says that he has one final question he needs to ask the judge. He wants to know if he, the lawyer, can explain his clients new plea deal to the gajillion reporters who have been calling him about it. So, he asked the question to the judge. The judge responds by saying to the prosecutor, well, what do you think?
The prosecutor then says this, he says this, the prosecutor says, no objection so long as you do not talk about Paul Manafort. And then the judge says basically, yes. Quote, I clearly don`t want you talking about the substance of Mr. Manafort`s case. At which point Rick Gates` lawyer says to the court, no, no, no.
So no talking about Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. If you`re the lawyer for Rick Gates, you can talk about the plea deal and explain how it goes. But when it comes to Paul Manafort, ixnay on the alkingtay.
Paul Manafort now goes forward in this case facing multiple counts across two different jurisdiction. But now, he`s facing them alone for the first time.
Joining us now is Benjamin Wittes. He`s the editor in chief of the indispensible LawFareblog.com.
Mr. Wittes, it`s nice to see you. Appreciate you being here tonight.
BENJAMIN WITTES, LAWFAREBLOG.COM: Good to see you.
MADDOW: So, Paul Manafort has very serious charges against him. He has been -- his path has diverged from his long time business partner and deputy, Rick Gates, a lot of people who are sort of lay observers of this process see that as something that greatly increases the pressure on Paul Manafort that may change ultimately the course of how his legal case proceeds.
How do you see it?
WITTES: Well, look, most people who are indicted by federal prosecutors, particularly good federal prosecutors, and the Mueller team is extremely strong, are guilty. And most people who are indicted and rather than face charges plead to them eventually. And Paul Manafort is facing very serious charges. He is, as you point out, facing them alone, and that -- and defending yourself against such charges is an extremely expensive and extremely risky proposition. And so, the pressure on him is undoubtedly intense.
MADDOW: Mr. Manafort put out a statement in response to Rick Gates` guilty plea that was an aggressive statement, saying that the reasons for Rick Gates doing this would eventually come out, he`s expressing his disappointment, clearly criticizing Rick Gates for having made this decision.
That was viewed particularly by one of our guest on Friday night, Congressman Adam Schiff from the House Intelligence Committee, he saw that as essentially Mr. Manafort making a public plea to the president for a pardon. I`m starting to get the sense the more I like what Mr. Manafort is facing legally that a presidential pardon wouldn`t get him out of the woods, that he might be facing continued legal jeopardy from nonfederal jurisdictions, things that a presidential pardon couldn`t help him.
WITTES: Well, so, look, Paul Manafort has the world of hurt and if he`s relying on a possibility of a presidential pardon right now, that`s a pretty desperate situation, because a presidential pardon, among other things, would be extraordinarily politically difficult for President Trump to do in this instance. So, even if you`re -- even if you`re wrong and the only charges facing Manafort are these federal charges and he`s got no exposure on anything at any state level, I still think it would be an extremely risky proposition to bank heavily on a pardon from President Trump.
MADDOW: Do you think that the Democratic memo that was released this weekend is significant in advancing our understanding of the state of the counterintelligence investigation and the strength of the special counsel`s case?
WITTES: Yes, I think it`s a pretty significant document, and it`s a quite devastating document, actually. Look, the whole issue around the Nunes memo is a big distraction in the sense that, you know, the premises of the Nunes memo was that the Steele dossier is the kind of origin story of the Carter Page FISA. And while the Nunes memo actually shows the opposite of this, the significance of that claim is that a lot of people seem to believe falsely that the Carter Page FISA is the kind of the origin story of the Russia investigation.
And what the Democratic memo shows very clearly, and it`s really not contradicted on this point by anybody, is that, in fact, there was a lot more information about Carter Page than was in -- than came from the Steele dossier. There was a lot of reason for the FBI to be interested in Carter Page, as you pointed out, including recent interactions with the FBI over his contacts with Russian government officials. And, in any event, the Carter Page FISA had very little to do or nothing to do with the origins of the Russia investigation, which predate it by several months.
And so, I think it`s -- you know, it`s a very significant corrective to a very upsetting incident in which the chairman of the intelligence committee essentially used the oversight process to lie about the FBI.
MADDOW: Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare -- thank you very much for being with us tonight. Thanks.
WITTES: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Just want to re-up the sort of strange breaking news we got this hour from the "New York Times." The office of first lady Melania Trump has announced tonight that it has severed its relationship with a long-time friend of the first lady who set up a company that received $26 million from the inaugural fund. "The Times" tonight reporting that the president and first lady were displeased by the news of how much Stephanie Winston Wolkoff had been paid by the inaugural committee.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
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