Cambridge Analytica harvested data. TRANSCRIPT: 03/19/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Amy Klobuchar, Neal Katyal

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 19, 2018 Guest: Amy Klobuchar, Neal Katyal

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Monday.

In Watergate, it`s still not totally clear looking back why the Nixon White House didn`t just destroy all the Oval Office tapes. They knew what was on them, right? Why didn`t they just barbecue them? Frankly, looking back, it`s still not clear why they made those tapes in the first place, but they made them.

And by the time the special prosecutor was closing in in Watergate, Nixon and the White House knew that if those tapes ever became public, that would be the end. So, they fought to keep the tapes secret, the existence of the tape secret. And then once the public knew they existed, they fought for the right to keep them private and never release them.

Ultimately, the Nixon White House came up with a ridiculous offer that would make it look like they were releasing the tapes without them ever actually having to do so. We`ve talked about this on the show before. It was called the Stennis compromise.

To avoid releasing the tapes, Nixon offered the special prosecutor in Watergate a deal. The White House would not hand over the tapes but they would listen to the tapes themselves, type up written summaries of what they said was on the tapes and then they would cross your heart, pinky swear that those summaries were absolutely accurate and there was nothing else damning on the tapes at all.

And just in case you were some sort of cold-hearted cynical jerk and you wouldn`t take President Nixon`s word for it, that those recent summaries were an accurate description of what was on the tapes -- well, for you cynics, there would also be a verification process, a pro-Nixon Dixiecrat senator named Senator John Stennis would personally, individually listen to the tapes. He`d compare the tapes with the written summaries that have been drawn up by the Nixon White House and Senator Stennis would personally sign off attributing, right? He would listen to them. You could use his own integrity to tell whether those written summaries were accurate. He would attest to their accuracy.

And that was an absolutely ridiculous offer from the Nixon White House, right? Not only was it a Rube Goldberg contraption, right, of the tapes being made and the tapes being played and then transcribed and then summarized and listened to again and then verified and signed off on by this other dude and -- but in addition to all of that, Senator John Stennis, the key validator for this whole process, he was famously deaf. So, he was not going to be able to validate the auditory accuracy of any of those tapes.

So, the Stennis compromise was offered. The special prosecutor said, yes, no. And Nixon responded by firing the special prosecutor. That was the Saturday Night Massacre.

He couldn`t fire the special prosecutor directly, so he ordered his attorney general to fire the prosecutor. The attorney general said no. So, he fired his attorney general. Then he gave same order to the deputy attorney general who said no. He fired the deputy attorney general said. Ultimately, it was the solicitor general, Robert Bork, who said, yes, OK, I will fire the special prosecutor.

Now, as ridiculous as it is in hindsight, Nixon apparently really believed his own sales pitch. He really believed that the Stennis compromise was such a reasonable, generous offer from him that the country would be absolutely on his side in this standoff. Look what I`ve offered. How can they say no to that?

That is not how the country received it. Instead, the Saturday Night Massacre got the whole country up in arms. The whole thing really blew up, both sides of the aisle. Ultimately, a new special prosecutor was appointed. And that was all she wrote for the Nixon administration.

New special prosecutor maintained the insistence on getting the actual tapes. The courts agreed. Nixon had to hand them over and that was the end.

In "The Washington Post" tonight, reporter Carol Leonnig has the scoop that President Trump`s lawyers in the Russia investigation have just sent over to special counsel Robert Mueller`s office some written summaries of their own.

Quote, President Trump`s attorneys have provided the special counsel`s office with written descriptions that chronicle key moments under investigation by the special counsel. Quote, the written materials provided to Mueller`s office includes summaries of internal White House memos and contemporaneous correspondence about events Mueller is investigating, including the ouster of national security adviser Mike Flynn and FBI director James Comey. Quote, the records do not include Trump`s personal version of events, but they provide a narrative of the White House view. Trump`s lawyers hope this evidence eliminates the need to ask the president about some of these episodes.

Raise your hand if you think this is going to make this whole problem for the White House go away. Raise your hand if you think Robert Mueller and his prosecutors will not just be delighted, they`ll be absolutely satisfied to receive written narrative vignettes from the White House Russia lawyers providing their perspective on these matters that are under investigation.

I mean, give him credit. How many other options do they have?

The reason the president`s lawyers are trying to do this is obvious to the point of being emphatic. As Carol Leonnig puts it in her scoop tonight at the post, quote, Trump`s legal team shared the documents in an effort to limit any session between the president and the special counsel. The decision to share materials with Mueller`s team is part of an effort by Trump`s lawyers to minimize his exposure to the special counsel.

This latest gambit to write some stuff up for the special counsel`s prosecutors is, quote, in hopes of curtailing the scoop of a presidential interview. I bet.

The president`s lawyers are clearly paddling as fast as they can here, but they`re only going to be able to steer this thing for so long. You will recall that the president`s lawyers previously assured him that the Mueller investigation would be wrapped up by Thanksgiving, as in Thanksgiving last year. When we rolled straight through Thanksgiving and that wasn`t true, they patiently it would definitely be done by Christmas. Then they said it would be done by the now year.

When that didn`t happen either, January 8th is when the president`s lawyers first floated the idea that instead of the president answering questions from special prosecutor, instead, the president would just sign an affidavit affirming that he is innocent of all charges.

See, the legal force of that would be that he would sign it. He would put his name on it. So therefore, that`s all you need, right? That`s an assurance of innocence.

The president`s lawyer suggested the sworn affidavit from the president asserting his innocence should be enough to satisfy the special counsel. If that wouldn`t be satisfying enough that, they also suggested, well, how about the special counsel could submit questions in writing, and then the president`s lawyers could write-up some answers and send those back? That unsurprisingly also did not make the special counsel go away.

Just a week and a half ago, they came up with another gambit they offered to have the president do a very limited interview with Mueller`s team where he wouldn`t have to answer any detailed questions at all. He could just speak to any general questions they might have. OK. And in exchange for that generous offer from the president`s lawyers, the special counsel would agree for his part that he would give up the whole thing in 60 days. He`d end the whole investigation within 60 days.

So, that gambit week and a half ago, that apparently did not go anywhere either. So, now, tonight the president`s lawyers have apparently tried this written vignette gambit. We`ll see how that goes. It does seem like they are sort of running out of options and ridiculous compromises to offer.

One White House adviser concedes to Carol Leonnig tonight at "The Washington Post" that the Trump lawyers believe they are moving into crunchtime on the Mueller investigation.

Last week, "The New York Times" reported that the Trump organization, President Trump`s business has received a subpoena from the Mueller investigation. The president himself has already betrayed to reporters that he would -- well, that this is a sensitive subject for him. He had previously said to "The Times" that any investigation into his business and his business finances is something he would see as a violation by the special counsel.

We also now know that Mueller`s investigators have sent to the president`s Russia lawyers the first round of topics and questions they intend to discuss with the president in his interview. And you know, maybe the president`s lawyers are right and Mueller`s prosecutors will be fully satisfied with just getting written descriptions of events from the perspective of White House lawyers in response to those queries. But that would be a surprise if they were OK with that.

Last week, "The New York Times" was also first to report that a new lawyer would be joining the president`s roster in the Russia scandal at this late date. "The Times" reported that veteran Washington lawyer Emmet T. Flood was in discussions to join the president`s team. The president himself vehemently denied that report saying not just that he wasn`t hiring Emmet T. Flood, but that he wasn`t hiring anybody.

The president said, quote: The failing "New York Times" purposely wrote a false story stating that I`m unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and I`m going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong! I am very happy with my lawyer, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job.

The failing "New York Times", wrong to report that I want a new lawyer from my Russia team.

Today, the White House confirmed that in fact, the president is adding a new lawyer to his Russia team. We`re actually going to have a little more on him coming up later on in the show tonight.

So, this does sort of feel like crunch time. At least, it feels like a lot of cages are being rattled all at once. I mean, the president last week fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. And coincidentally or not, that firing came Tuesday morning, just hours after Tillerson made his first ever sharply critical comments about Russia. The White House has pushed a false timeline of Tillerson`s firing to make it appear that he was fired sometime before his Russia comments, going so far as to also fire the number four official at the State Department who put out an accurate statement about when in fact Tillerson was fired, which was hours after his Russia remarks.

CNN also reports that embassies around the world and other State Department officials were ordered explicitly to not retweet or acknowledge that true statement about when exactly Tillerson was fired. So something rattled them there. Then late on Friday night, just after I got off the air like 30 seconds after I got off the air, the deputy director of the FBI was fired, Andrew McCabe.

Now, if there was any doubt whether that firing was related to the Russia scandal, the president`s lawyer, John Dowd cleared that up the following morning, Saturday morning when he released a statement to "The Daily Beast", saying that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should follow the example set by the McCabe firing. And he should, quote, bring an end to the alleged Russia collusion investigation.

So, McCabe`s own statement about his firing on Friday night certainly contended that this is related to Russia. He contends in the lengthy statement that he issued Friday night that his ouster is an effort to discredit him as a witness to the firing of FBI Director James Comey, which all sides agree is one of the key areas of focus in the investigation by Mueller`s team.

So, I mean, it does sort of feel like we`re in crunchtime. It feels like the White House is rattled and it feels like they are taking increasingly erratic action. And now in the midst of that, the president`s lawyers and Mueller`s lawyers going head to head, the firings in at least one of those cases, a false cover story about the firing being advanced by the White House, this hard turn by the president and his lead Russia lawyer this weekend to start attacking Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s office directly.

In the cacophony of this crunchtime, now today there is a new thing that is going crunch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: It has to be the deep digging and what we want to know is what is the expertise of the deep digging that you can do to make sure that the people know the true identity and secrets of the people?

ALEXANDER NIX, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA CEO: Oh, we do a lot more than that. I mean deep digging is interesting but you know equally effective can be just to go and speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that`s too good to be true, and make sure that that`s video recorded, you know, these sorts of tactics are very effective instantly having video evidence of corruption, putting it on the Internet, these sorts of things.

REPORTER: And the operative you will use for this is who?

NIX: Well, someone known to us.

REPORTER: OK, so it is somebody, you won`t use a Sri Lankan person, no, because there`s issue.

NIX: No. No, no, we`ll have a wealthy developer come in, somebody posing as a wealthy developer.

MARK TURNBULL: I`m a master of disguise.

NIX: Yes. They will offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land, for instance. We`ll have the whole thing recorded on cameras. We`ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.

REPORTER: So, on Facebook or YouTube, or something like this?

NIX: Send some girls around to the candidate`s house. We have lots of history of things.

REPORTER: For example, you`re saying when you`re using the girls to introduce to the local fellow and you`re using the girls for this, like the seduction, they`re not local girls? Not Sri Lankan girls?

NIX: I wouldn`t have thought so. No. We`ll bring some -- I mean, it was just an idea, I`m just saying, we could bring some Ukrainians in on holiday with us, you know? You know what I`m saying?

REPORTER: Yes, they are very beautiful Ukrainian girls.

NIX: They are very beautiful. I find that works very well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: They are very beautiful. I find the Ukrainian girls trick works very, very well.

The English gentleman on the right side of your screen for most of the tape explaining that tactic is the CEO of Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica is famous for being the data firm for Trump campaign. They`re basically a British firm that opened up a U.S. shell company with money from Republican mega donor Robert Mercer.

One of the easiest things to forget about the presidential election cycle is who was affiliated with who before Trump started winning everything. In this past presidential election cycle, Robert Mercer and his web of companies and donations, they didn`t initially support Trump. He initially supported Ted Cruz in the primary.

That`s why there are funny clips you can still get on YouTube of Kellyanne Conway criticizing Trump in the 2016 race. That`s because Kellyanne Conway was associated with the Mercer family and their web of entities and donations, and they were not initially for Trump. They were for Ted Cruz.

When it became clear, though, that Ted Cruz was going to lose to Donald Trump, the whole Mercer operation switched allegiance. This happened around the time when it came time for Paul Manafort to fade book into the background because of his shady seeming relationships with pro-Russian oligarchs and political factions in the former Soviet Union. At that time, you know, Ted Cruz took his fight to the convention but then Trump was triumphant. Manafort gets ousted. The Mercers stepped in to the Trump campaign.

They installed Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon at the top of the Trump campaign. They also brought on board Cambridge Analytica, which the Mercers funded, which Steve Bannon helped found, and where he served as vice president.

It`s interesting, though. Just a few months before that happened, in December 2015, "The Guardian" newspaper in Britain had reported that Cambridge Analytica`s work for the Ted Cruz campaign appeared to have something sort of rotten at the center of it. Cambridge Analytica was supporting Ted Cruz, and they appeared to be using millions of Facebook profiles that had effectively been stolen off of Facebook without the users` consent. It was sort of a minor, slightly arcane campaign controversy at the time.

Facebook wasn`t too bothered by the reporting or its implications. They took quite a few months until late 2016 before they apparently even bothered anybody about it. A new whistle blower who is the former research director at Cambridge Analytica, he`s now come forward to "The New York Times," to "The Guardian" and "Observer" newspapers in Britain and Britain`s Channel 4, saying he was contacted in August 2016 -- August 2016, so right before the 2016 election -- contacted august 2016 by Facebook when they sent him a notification telling him that he and Cambridge Analytica needed to delete all that data. He and other Cambridge Analytica sources now say that Cambridge Analytica didn`t delete that data and it didn`t much matter, because Facebook never checked to see if they did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA WHISTLEBLOWER: What Cambridge Analytica does is works on creating a web of disinformation online so that people start going down the rabbit hole of clicking on blogs, Websites, et cetera, that make them think that certain things are happening that may not be. Cambridge Analytica was meeting with Corey Lewandowski in 2015 before Trump had even announced, and offering the services that I`m talking about right now.

Cambridge Analytica was founded on misappropriated data of at least 50 million Facebook users. And I want to bring attention to that so that people understand that their data is being used improperly by this company that has also been, you know, in talks with Russian oil companies that was using a psychologist who is going back and forth between London and Russia, who is also working on projects that were funded by Russian funds in Russia on profiling people and their personalities.

So, I think it`s really important for Americans to know what this company has been doing with their data. And it`s really important I think to find out was this data used to help elect Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That`s the former research director at Cambridge Analytica. His name is Chris Wylie, speaking on the "Today" show this morning.

He made a reference to a Russian oil company. That`s about this company, Lukoil. They`re second largest oil company in Russia. The have turned up in the past in Russian influence operations overseas.

One famous example is in the Czech Republic, with a pro-Russian president in the Czech Republic, a key adviser to that pro-Russian president found himself in financial trouble because of illegal matter, and this random Russian oil company Lukoil stepped into rescue him basically, to pay his legal fees.

So, Lukoil is a private company but has been deployed as an instrument of the Kremlin, and they are sanctioned by U.S. law because of it.

One of the things that the Cambridge Analytica`s former research director, Christopher Wylie, is saying and providing documentation of now is that he says in 2014 and 2015, Cambridge Analytica met with executives from Lukoil specifically to give them detailed briefings on how data was used to target American voters.

Quote, Christopher Wylie, who helped found Cambridge Analytica and develop the company`s voter profiling technology, said Lukoil showed interest how they used date to that target their messaging to American voters.

Quote, I remember being super confused, said Mr. Wiley, who took part in one of the Lukoil meetings. I kept asking Alexander Nix, the head of the Cambridge Analytica, can you explain to me what they want? I don`t understand why Lukoil wants to know about political targeting in American. We`re sending them stuff about political targeting. They come and ask more about political targeting.

As to the way that Cambridge Analytica got access to their core data, the personal and private data of at least 50 million Facebook users, which is what this whistle-blower says their whole political operation was based on -- well, according to "The Guardian" and "Observer", they obtained that information by partnering with a professor at Cambridge University in England. He was able to obtain that kind of data from Facebook, supposedly for academic purposes. But he then apparently made a business deal with Cambridge Analytica where he handed it on to them, for them to use it in their business.

According to "The Guardian", quote, while that professor was helping turn Facebook profiles into a political tool, he was also an associate professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia, taking Russian government grants to fund other research into social media. Online posts showed Professor Kogan lecturing in Russia. One talk was called new methods of communication as an effective political instrument.

So, Cambridge Analytica does presentations in 2014 and 2015 for a Russian oil company that has been known to do political work for the Kremlin around the world. They give that oil company information about how to target and influence American voters and how that works. Why does a Russian oil company need that kind of information? We then learned that Cambridge Analytica obtains the core data that was the basis of their business and all their political work from a Russian researcher who was working at Cambridge, but is also simultaneously doing work for the Russian government.

We know from separate reporting that during the campaign while the Trump campaign was paying Cambridge Analytica nearly $6 million for its data service, Cambridge Analytica was in touch with WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks was busy distributing e-mails that had been stolen by Russian government hackers to try to inflict maximum political harm on Hillary Clinton. Cambridge Analytica contacted them to see if they could basically help them out with that.

Well, now, a whistle blower is deeply involved in the data operations of that company has come forward and handed over to Britain`s national crime agency cybercrime unit a dossier of e-mails, invoices, contracts, and bank transfers from his time at the company. He says he`s basically driven by guilt.

The British prime minister says she supports an investigation into the company. The information commissioner in the U.K., which is sort of the prosecutor on privacy issues, says she is now seeking a warrant to get their databases and their servers. The European Union also says they are interested in starting an investigation here. At least one state attorney general, Democrat Maura Healey in Massachusetts, says she too is potentially looking at this as a criminal matter here in the United States.

The president and his legal team have thus far come up with one legal argument to prove that there was no conspiracy or collaboration between the Russia effort to help elect Donald Trump and Donald Trump`s campaign effort trying to do the same thing. So far, their legal argument is them saying in all capital letters with exclamation points at the end, no collusion, no collusion, no collusion.

And I know it feels like everything is sort of happening all at once, but we are about to find out if that complex legal argument from them has met its match. Crunchtime indeed.

Senator Amy Klobuchar joins us next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK TURNBULL, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA POLITICAL GLOBAL MANAGING DIRECTOR: We put information into the bloodstream of the Internet, and then watch it grow. It has to happen without anyone thinking that`s propaganda because the moment you think that`s propaganda, the next question is who`s put that out?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: We started today with a deluge of reports about the Trump campaign`s data firm. Cambridge Analytica, they got 6 million bucks from the campaign while Donald Trump was running for president. In 2014, Cambridge Analytica used a purported academic research scheme to harvest complicated, extensive personal data from tens of millions of Americans who didn`t know they were handing that kind of information over.

According to a new whistleblower who was head of research at the company, that stolen data on 50 million Americans was basically the core of their data business. A bipartisan pair of senators on the Judiciary Committee, Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Republican John Kennedy, now say they want tech CEOs, including Facebook`s Mark Zuckerberg up on Capitol Hill, answering questions directly about this stuff.

The Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee wrote back to Senators Klobuchar and Kennedy saying that he would take their request under advisement, which I think means maybe. It possibly even means perhaps.

Joining us now is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Senator Klobuchar, thank you for your time tonight.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: So, what concerns you most in these revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, of course, it`s the sanctity of our elections and our democracy. We actually have an election less than 300 days away. We have to make sure our election infrastructure is safe. I think we`re going to get some money for the states in this budget. I`ve been working really hard on that, so they can get back up paper ballots, things like that.

And the second is what you`ve been talking about so well for the first few minutes of this show and that is this propaganda and things that are coming into people`s Facebook pages and their data where in fact we`ve learned now, things that they thought were safe weren`t safe. Fifty million people in America have now had their data basically breached -- and I know they don`t like that we`re breached, but the last time I checked, if someone broke into my apartment with a crowbar, it would be same as if the apartment manager give them a key and let them in and let them take stuff.

And in this case, they have taken their Facebook friends, they have taken their addresses, things like that and then we find out that they gave it basically, we believe, to a campaign and there are all kinds of potential legal violations here. The first and foremost is Cambridge Analytica itself and how that works with the Trump campaign and is that truly the value, a couple million dollars compared to what I think someone said maybe $100 million in value. That`s a potential major election violation.

Then you have Facebook itself in 2011 signed a consent degree with the FTC because of privacy issues and said they paid $40,000 for each individual violation. So, this is just the beginning of what I consider a focus on what we need to focus on and that is the privacy of the data and that means new rules of the road and they better be ready for it because they can`t operate like the Wild West, and then the second thing is how we protect elections and make sure the people that did this are held responsible.

MADDOW: Do you feel like the tech companies here are more the scene of the crime or more the get away driver? I feel like they want to posit themselves here as sort of -- not necessarily innocent bystanders but people who comported themselves with -- according to the rules that they set forth for their users and certainly according with the law and if people use their platforms for nefarious purposes, that`s too bad but it doesn`t really have anything to do with them.

KLOBUCHAR: You know, these are some of the most brilliant companies in America run by brilliant people with a lot of really smart things they have done. We love putting up the clips from your shows, recipes, you name it. But it`s gotten so much more than that.

And I think someone said they have basically built a product with no alarm system and no locks on the windows and big surprise the bad guys got in.

So, when you have a company that`s worth like 500 billion, I think you have to take the some of that money -- they`re going to have to put it big time into protecting the security of the data and I think some rules have to be set in place by Congress. We have to stop pretending that this is just about cat videos. This got to the core of our democracy with a foreign country actually buying ads in rubles and then also sending out propaganda and targeting innocent Americans who didn`t know that their profiles and their data and their friends had been stolen.

MADDOW: Senator Amy Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I live in hope with that little note that you got from Senator Grassley today saying he was taking this under advisement. Please let us know --

KLOBUCHAR: We want to get it then.

MADDOW: Yes, let us know. Let us know. Thank you, Senator.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

MADDOW: Much appreciated.

What the senator said there about the value of Facebook and it does get people`s attention when you call for the CEOs, not just lower level executives, but the CEOs of Facebook and Google and Twitter to come forward and answer this stuff in the stock market today.

In the stock market today, the hit to Facebook on this in light of the scandal was massive. Facebook lost tens of billions of dollars in valuation today with the hit their stock took on this scandal.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: When James Comey was director of the FBI, and he believed that the president of the United States was directing him to shut down the Russia investigation into the president`s own campaign, Mr. Comey documented the president`s behavior and his requests in their conversations.

After he was fired, Comey testified to Congress that he wrote down what happened between him and the president in detail, and crucially, he also told other senior leadership at the FBI exactly what had happened. He listed several senior officials he told at the time about what was happening. Those are therefore people who can provide corroborating evidence of what the president did in his conversations with James Comey.

Ever since James Comey listed those officials, we`ve been watching one by one as those corroborating witnesses have been attacked and sidelined by the president and his allies. There was Jim Rybicki who was chief of staff both under Comey and his successor Chris Wray. Earlier this year, Chris Wray announced that Rybicki was out. That followed Republicans in Congress taking shots at Rybicki, trying to construe him as a partisan.

Also, the general counsel of the FBI, James Baker who remains at the FBI for now, but he has mysteriously been reassigned to a job nobody can describe with responsibilities no one can name. The president has also been taking shots at Jim Baker publicly. And, of course, there is Andrew McCabe, deputy director of the FBI who the president publicly denounced for months and who is getting retired out of the FBI at the ripe old age of 49 until Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired him late Friday night, 26 hours short of his retirement.

Now, for months, we`ve been reporting this, that the clearing out of Comey`s inner circle really looks like a coordinated concerted attempt to discredit not just James Comey, but also the witnesses who could corroborate Comey`s account of his interactions with President Trump. All the time that we`ve been reporting this, none of those witnesses themselves has ever spoken publicly about this. None of them has ever confirmed that what this looks like from the outside is also what it looks like and feels like from the inside. Until now.

There is this blistering statement that was just released by Andrew McCabe after he was fired on Friday night. It says in part, quote, here is the reality. I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey`s account of his discussions with the president.

Helpfully underscoring that point, President Trump responded to that statement by unleashing an avalanche of tweets attacking Andrew McCabe and James Comey and Robert Mueller, and then his Russia lawyer John Dowd called for the special counsel investigation to be shut down. And you know, the litany of unfortunate career events that have followed people who are witnesses to Comey`s side of the firing of the FBI director story, it`s a sobering thing.

All sides agree that the special counsel is focused on this question of why the FBI director was fired, and was that a potential obstruction of justice? We`re getting new details about that tonight, and we have somebody very, very smart here to talk with us about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Joining us now, I`m very pleased to say is Neal Katyal. He is a former U.S. acting solicitor general.

Neal, thank you very much for being here tonight.

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER U.S. ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: Thank you. A pleasure.

MADDOW: I appreciate you being here in person.

I want to talk with you about the Andrew McCabe firing. This happened late on Friday night. Obviously, there was some drama as to the timing. Twenty-six hours later Mr. McCabe would have qualified for his pension. There is a question whether that will be a major financial hit for him in addition to him being fired.

What`s your top-line reaction to that firing, and how important do you think it is?

KATYAL: Horrible decision by the president of the United States. I mean, presidents are always tempted to weigh in on criminal investigations or disciplinary procedures. But they don`t.

You know, there is a red line that they don`t want to cross. And for a very simple reason there is a process in place to discipline. And, you know, that requires extensive review, thoroughness, investigation and secrecy. And the president has none of those facts. But yet, months ago, he called for McCabe`s firing.

And it`s no surprise that someone like Sessions, who is not exactly someone with a spine, you know, is going to listen to that and then say oh, I`m going to fire McCabe.

MADDOW: You know, on the involvement of Sessions here, obviously, this was the attorney general`s decision, not the president`s decision directly, although it`s colored by the fact that the president not only called for McCabe to be fired, but singled out the fact that he was going to qualify for his pension by a specific date.

But then there is the matter of the attorney general`s recusal. The attorney general is reportedly recused not just from the Russia investigation, but from all matters related to any investigations stemming from the 2016 campaign or related to Hillary Clinton`s e-mails or the Clinton Foundation.

KATYAL: Exactly.

MADDOW: The basis of this action against Andrew McCabe was reportedly related to investigations that pertained to Hillary Clinton. So how can the attorney general have taken this action?

KATYAL: It`s astounding to me. I mean, it`s a bogus recusal then, because, you know, the fundamental idea when you recuse at the Justice Department, you know, I worked on those rules, is that you have some conflict of interest. Something that says you can`t investigate. There is an appearance of impropriety.

Now, if you can discipline the folks who are investigating, you know, that is effectively doing the same thing. Remember who McCabe. McCabe is the deputy director of the FBI who`s running part of the investigation. He is also a witness in the investigation on Trump. If you ask yourself in my fair city of Washington, D.C., who had the most to gain from the firing of Andrew McCabe, there is one person who would come to your mind, and that is Donald Trump.

MADDOW: When -- you mentioned McCabe as a witness to the Comey firing, that has been some of the -- that`s sort of the original drama here on -- not the issue of collusion, but the issue of obstruction of justice. If the president tried to pressure James Comey into getting rid of the Russia investigation, to laying off Mike Flynn, if he then fired James Comey because he wanted relief from the pressure of the Russia investigation, all of which there is evidence for, there is this matter of how Comey documented those interactions with the president.

Andrew McCabe is one of the people privy to those contemporaneous remarks by James Comey that`s showing him the memo and talking to him about what happened. Other season your FBI officials who were in that same boat also appeared to have sort of fallen off cliffs in terms of their career.

Is there reason to worry that systematically the corroborating witnesses are being sort of taken out?

KATYAL: Totally. And, you know, the most outstanding thing about this -- we`re talking about not just corroborating witnesses at some ordinary criminal investigation, but an investigation into the president of the United States, and what he`s doing is systematically trying to pick them off, you know --

MADDOW: You think he is.

KATYAL: Oh, I don`t think there`s any doubt that that`s what is going on when you have a president who months ahead of time calls for McCabe`s firing. I mean, this isn`t like he waited for the report, you know, read it thoroughly and investigated, asked questions the way any normal president would. This is someone who rushed to judgment and you have to ask yourself, boy, is there self-interest going on or something else?

MADDOW: Let me ask you, this is a legal matter that I`m pretty sure there is an obvious answer to, I just don`t know it because I`m not a lawyer. And that is about interviewing with an investigation, intimidating or tampering with witnesses. If these FBI officials including Andrew McCabe are important witnesses for the question of obstruction of justice that may potentially be pursued as a criminal matter by the special counsel.

When the president picks public fights with those witnesses, he doesn`t just potentially maneuver to have them fired by also insults them, berates them, makes sure they are publicly humiliated. That is -- it seems to me it operates just on its own, on its face, just a mean thing to do. But also, doesn`t that establish that there some -- there ought to be, reasonably, some personal animus between those witnesses and president, those under cutting their ability in a court of law to testify against the president without people thinking they`re doing it for their own personal - -

KATYAL: Well, that`s exactly right, which is why in general, you know, as a criminal defense lawyer, you would tell one of your clients, please don`t talk to any witness under any circumstance, don`t fire them, don`t talk to them, move out of their orbit entirely to -- precisely to avoid these accusations. And yes, he`s done it -- Donald Trump has done it openly.

MADDOW: Comey, McCabe, Baker, he`s done it with all of them.

KATYAL: Exactly, and doing it in secret or public doesn`t matter. Obstruction of justice is obstruction of justice and what we have right now is a pretty scary record of the president engaging in what looks like obstruction of justice.

MADDOW: How does that get policed? Is that sort of effort to sort of clear the testimony of a witness like that to undercut a witness`s credibility? Is that itself obstruction of justice? Is that itself a criminal act?

KATYAL: Well, undercutting a criminal witness`s credibility is not. So, you know, you testify against me and I have reason to show that you had some credibility problem, no problem. But if you`re manufacturing that credibility gap on your own by firing someone, creating a conflict where one didn`t exist before, yes, that`s starting to look really dubious, really and again, we`re talking about not an ordinary individual but the president of the United States charged with taking care that Constitution and laws be executed faithfully, and what looks like is nothing like that.

MADDOW: Neal Katyal is a former U.S. acting solicitor general -- Neal, great to have you here in person. Thank you for coming in. I really appreciate it.

All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Here`s a heads up on something that is sort of an uncomfortable subject but you should know this is going on.

On March 6th, so a couple weeks ago, we learned in "The New York Times" that a man named George Nader was a new cooperating witness for the special counsel investigation. George Nader is the opposite of a household work. "The Times" reported that he was an adviser to the leader of the United Air of Emirates. And that special counsel Robert Mueller was investigating the possible elicit flow of money from the United Arab Emirates into President Trump`s political operation and Mr. Nader is now cooperating with that inquiry.

Nader was also reportedly present at a couple of intriguing meetings during the transition that Trump campaign folks had initially tried to keep secret. One meeting in the Seychelles Islands, and another one in Trump Tower in December of 2016. So, George Nader couple of weeks ago were all introduced to him as a new character in this little soap opera we all live in now.

At a time, little else was known about him or his past. But a couple of days after that initial report in "The New York Times," we learned from "The Atlantic" magazine that in 1985, this same George Nader had been indicted on charges of importing obscene material featuring nude, underage boys engaged in sexual acts, a 1985 indictment of child porn.

A week later, "The Associated Press" reported that in 2003, George Nader had also served time in prison in the Czech Republic for sexually abusing young boys. The day after that, a Pew report was published, "Newsweek", "Politico", and "The Washington Post" all reported that in 1991, so in between the `85 indictments and the 2003 jail in the Czech Republic, 1991, Nader was convicted in Virginia for transporting child porn into this country.

Now, the documents related to this 1991 conviction had been under seal for years. But then suddenly, on Thursday, those records were unsealed and that`s how all those reporters were able to write stories about them. Now, it`s not unusual for prosecutors to have cooperating witnesses with a criminal history. If there was a rule against that, prosecutors would have very few people to rely on to build their cases.

But one of George Nader`s lawyers keeps saying there`s something going on here that maybe something trying -- something about trying to stop his client from continuing to cooperate with the special counsel, with Robert Mueller. Nader`s lawyer is calling it, quote, an orchestrated, disgusting scheme by those who are trying to intimidate Mr. Nader into silence.

So, that is intriguing. And the criminal charges are what they were. But why is all this press coming out about them now, right? We can`t know for sure where it`s all coming from, why it`s all coming out now, including previously sealed court documents.

But there`s one interesting thing here that`s worth pointing out. It involves that 1985 indictment against George Nader, these were charges that were later dropped. A court ruled that a search warrant used to obtain evidence from Nader`s how was not properly obtained.

The prosecutor at the time who tried and failed to bring that case, who brought those charges and couldn`t get a conviction in that 1985 case, his name was Joseph diGenova. He was the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia at the time. And guess who just got hired as Trump`s new Russia lawyer in the Russia probe? Joseph diGenova the same guy, the guy who tried but ultimately failed to convict Gorge Nader on those obscenity charges all the way back in 1985.

So, he`s coming back into the public eye of being brought on at the White House, just as the public is learning all of these deep bury details about George Nader`s criminal past. George Nader, Robert Mueller`s latest cooperating witness.

I don`t know if it is coincidence that both of these things are coming to light at the same time. While the president and his lawyers make this hard turn against Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s office, it is a little bit weird these two things are happening that diGenova`s life is coming into -- his life is coming to light in these two different ways at the same time.

But pay attention if George Nader`s criminal history starts to become less of a weird side story about this cooperating witness and instead starts fuel the White House`s new offense against the special counsel investigation, you`ll be able see these two data points as part of the explanation of why.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In Washington, D.C., cherry blossoms are a huge deal. When they bloom in the spring, more than a million tourists pour into the capital to see them. There`s endless events to celebrate Kite Festival, road race, lots of performances.

So, for organizers, to change any part of the festivities is a major effort. But this year, that is what`s happening. The opening ceremony for the official cherry blossom festival is scheduled for this Saturday, this Saturday the 24th.

Saturday is also, though, the March for Our Lives, the anti-gun violence rally organized by the survivors of last month`s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Now, there`s always demonstrations in Washington. But this one is turning out to be a big one. Organizers are now expecting hundreds of thousands of people to show up for that, and alongside the opening of the cherry blossom festival, that would make for way too many people in the same place at the same time.

So, the cherry blossom ceremony was moved to Sunday. A spokesperson for the National Park Service telling us tonight, quote: The opening ceremony of the National Cherry Blossom Festival was changed not to accommodate the March for Our Lives, but rather because of concern that guests would have difficulty reaching the venue due to its location on Pennsylvania Avenue. Half a million people massing less than a mile away from the White House to protest the president`s gun policies. The will happen Saturday and cherry blossoms the next day. Actually, it should be a very nice weekend in Washington.

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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