Trump signs $1.3 trillion spending bill. TRANSCRIPT: 03/23/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Shawn Boburg, Colin Kahl

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW March 23, 2018 Guest: Shawn Boburg, Colin Kahl

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Friday.

This is one of those Fridays when not only is today the capstone to what has been a sort of insane week of news, but you can count on the fact that it`s not over. This is not the kind of week that ends on Friday night. You can count on the fact that there`s going to be a lot of news over this upcoming weekend as well. We shall not rest!

So, it`s not over. It`s particularly good to have you with us here tonight. There`s a lot going on.

You know, we use the word bravery when someone is willing to step forward and do the hard thing, do the dangerous thing because despite the risks, it`s the right thing to do. When people you know put themselves out there, when they put themselves on the line in order to do what they think must be done, we tend to call that bravery.

I don`t know exactly what you call it when somebody goes out and does the hard thing, does the dangerous thing because they think it`s something that needs to be done. They believe it`s necessary for the good of the country. I don`t know what you call it when a person does that thing but they do it in secret, under a cloak of anonymity. What do you call it when somebody does the brave seeming thing but they go out of their way to make sure that nobody can find out it was them who did it? Right?

It`s still bravery but it`s like -- it`s like the cat burglary subset of bravery. I don`t know what you call it. It`s like -- you know, when everybody steps forward and says I am Sparta. It`s like the opposite of that. It wasn`t me. It wasn`t me. Not me, instead of people volunteering themselves and putting themselves out there putting themselves in the line, somebody does the right thing but nobody`s willing to admit it was them.

I don`t know what you call that, but that just happened on Russia sanctions. It`s weird. You will notice that we are not having a federal government shutdown tonight, mazel tov! That`s because once again, they were able to get a big federal government spending bill passed and signed at the very, very, very last minute, thus averting what would otherwise have been a government shutdown tonight. And it`s a big long bill, and there`s a ton of stuff in it.

But there`s one section in this bill that nobody in Congress, nobody in either House of Congress and nobody in either party in Congress, nobody will admit that they wrote it.

Quote: in a five page section titled countering Russian influence and aggression, this big spending bill that got caught -- that got passed into law today has a bunch of new specific prohibitions on American taxpayer dollars going to Russia. The bill adds $250 million to the Countering Russian Influence Fund in our own government. It directs a bunch of money toward supporting democracy programs in Russia, including online freedom, Internet freedom in Russia. It authorizes significant new sanctions against Russia, and it, quote, bans the use of federal funds for entering into new contracts or new agreements to provide federal assistance to the Russian federation.

And this is not just something that has been proposed. This was signed into law today by the president. But nobody knows who put it in the bill.

Andrew Desiderio (ph) wrote this up for "The Daily Beast". Literally they did a supra headline over this headline that was shh, as in don`t tell anybody this happened. Quote: The origin of the Russia measures in the spending bill remain a mystery. Lawmakers are unsure as to who exactly inserted these measures into the spending bill.

I am not Sparta. Nobody here is Sparta. None of us did this. Definitely wasn`t us. Every -- I mean, this is some very specific kind of bravery that we`re going to need a new word for, but this anonymous gambit in Congress appears to have worked. We got new Russia sanctions today, thanks to anonymous someone. It worked.

I mean, for a minute, it looked like it wasn`t going to work. The president woke everybody up this morning with a random curveball on this matter. White House and cabinet officials have spent days talking about how the president was definitely going to sign this, how much he was in favor of it, what a big win it was for him and the president said this morning, nope, I`m going to veto it. He then -- he didn`t veto it, he ended up signing it at this strange event that he announced would be a press conference, but it wasn`t a press conference.

And so, because he signed it, we didn`t get a government shutdown. Government is funded for a while and, surprise, we just got a bunch of new Russia sanctions written in the law. And I don`t know who did that and neither do you, and who knows if we`ll ever find out who did that.

But it`s not hard to recognize the reason for the secrecy on that, right? I mean, when the history of this moment in this administration is written the record will show that the last public remarks from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before he was fired, and the last public remarks from H.R. McMaster, national security adviser, before he was fired, in both of those cases, the last public thing they said as government officials before the president fired them and removed them from those posts, in both of their cases, the last thing they said were comments that were very critical of Russia.

Now, tonight, CNN reports that beyond his public remarks criticizing Russia as his last public comments, the last action H.R. McMaster took as national security advisor in the White House before he was fired was that he oversaw a National Security Council process that resulted in a recommendation to the president that the United States should expel Russian diplomats from the U.S. once again, this time because of the Russian nerve agent assassination attempt that was carried out in Great Britain a few weeks ago.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster reportedly oversaw that process at the National Security Council. He and the National Security Council recommended to the president that he expel Russian diplomats on Wednesday, and then Trump fired him on Thursday.

And now, raise your hand if you think that President Trump is going to follow that recommendation and expel Russian diplomats from the United States as punishment for the nerve agent poisoning that he was too afraid to bring up person-to-person when he spoke to Vladimir Putin last week. You think he`s going to kick out their diplomats?

I mean, even if he doesn`t follow that recommendation from the National Security Council, even if he doesn`t do that, past experience suggests he won`t, he nevertheless is going to have to implement these new sanctions and these new funding restrictions on -- against Russia and that`s because some anonymous member of Congress put on a ski mask and pried open the window and snuck it into the bill and then got away without anybody ever figuring out who did it. Courage!

So, things are weird even more than usual. It`s been sort of a helter- skelter news cycle. Politico.com`s major headline for today was Trump aids are at their wit`s end. Andrew Restuccio (ph) at "Politico" reports that in the middle of President Trump threatening that he was going to veto the spending bill and shut down the government, reporters were calling the White House to find out if the president really meant this, if he was serious whether this was -- it was really going to happen. White House officials had no idea what to tell reporters because apparently they were completely blindsided by the president`s behavior today.

Quote: asked Friday whether Trump was serious about vetoing the bill, one White House official said simply, who knows? That`s a White House official. Who knows?

We also learned today that part of the surprise of the McMaster firing last night was that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and other senior White House officials were hard at work planning an announcement that not only was H.R. McMaster going to be fired, but a whole bunch of other officials were going to be fired as well, including multiple cabinet officials. Part of the surprise last night was that they were planning on announcing all of those firings all at once when all of a sudden, the president got on Twitter and fired McMaster.

It`s not enough that makes you feel better or worse about stability at the uppermost levels of the American government, it was a shock to everybody that the national security advisor was fired but only because a whole bunch of other people at senior levels of the administration were also supposed to be fired at the same time. And those other people haven`t been fired yet. So, we`re apparently still waiting for those firings to happen? Do those shoes still drop?

I mean, even among White House sources, there is now open speculation that the firing of McMaster last night and the announced hiring of John Bolton was timed by the president to distract from one particular interview that aired last night on CNN, an interview in which woman named Karen McDougal discussed in detail what she says was a serious ten-month long extramarital affair with the president, which she said was capped off during the presidential campaign by what she describes as a hush money deal that was facilitated by one of the president`s friends. She says it was both a significant campaign finance violation by the Trump campaign and it was illegal fraud by the president`s personal lawyer Michael Cohen acting on the president`s behalf.

So that interview was last night in the 8:00 o`clock hour Eastern Time. CNN telegraphed all day long that that interview would be airing in the 8:00 o`clock hour. Ninety minutes before its airtime is when the president announced he was firing the national security adviser. That timing reportedly a surprise both to the national security adviser and to the guy who he announced would be getting the job next.

And if the speculation even from within the White House is correct that that is what drove that timing an effort to distract from that interview last night, if the speculation is true that the national security adviser to the president of the United States was fired to distract from Karen McDougal`s interview last night then heaven help us for whatever this president and this White House are going to do to distract us this weekend, because the Stormy Daniels interview is due to air on Sunday night on "60 Minutes".

If you fire the national security advisor to distract from the first interview, what do you do to distract from the second one? In the "you have to buy me tacos" RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff betting pool on the subject, my pick is Mike Flynn early pardon. Mike Flynn pardon on early Sunday afternoon. I do really love tacos. It does not mean I`m rooting for that outcome. It just means I`m expecting me we`ll get.

My -- that`s where I`ve got a square, Mike Flynn pardon and my timing early Sunday afternoon. We`ll see.

The Dow dropped another 424 points today, after plunging 724 points yesterday. This latest plunge appears to be due to the president`s actions, appears to be due to the president`s new economic attacks on China. China now saying that it will retaliate by launching its own economic attacks on U.S. manufacturers and farmers who export key products that China`s singling out for retaliation, things like pork and apples and steel pipe.

Well, the business reporting is that China is girding for a full-scale trade war with the United States now due to the president`s actions. If so, we`ll be able to look back at today as the initial volleys of that war. Over the course of this week, the Dow Jones has dropped more than 1,400 points.

Now, I mentioned that this weekend is expected to be newsier than usual, that`s in part because of the Stormy Daniels interview that is scheduled for Sunday night on "60 Minutes". It`s also because of the expectation that the president or the White House might do something weird or dramatic to try to distract from that interview on Sunday night.

But it is also expected to be a very newsy weekend because tomorrow is likely to be a really big freaking march in Washington, D.C. and also around the country. The march is against gun violence. The biggest march will be in Washington. They`re expecting hundreds of thousands of people. But more than 800 marches are scheduled around the country and even around the world in solidarity with all the folks that are going to D.C. and in solidarity with the Parkland, Florida, school shooting survivors that appear to have kicked off this moment in our national discourse.

On the occasion of the march, "The Boston Globe" newspaper has just done something very interesting. They`ve just done this wrap-around front page op-ed. And I think this is very interesting. In keeping with the way the kids who survived the Parkland, Florida, shooting have re centered the debate on guns and made things seem possible that even six weeks ago wouldn`t even be worth considering, this wrap-around in "The Globe" also makes a case for basically not just recalibrating the debate, but recalibrating what we consider to be central information for our national debate about guns and gun violence.

And the fact that it`s "The Boston Globe" doing it specifically is important because what they`re arguing is that Massachusetts should be seen as America`s gun violence success story and that should be central to how we think about approaching gun violence as a country. Massachusetts has the lowest gun death rate in the country. Three and a half gun deaths per 100,000 people, which is still a lot but it`s less than the rest of the United States. If the rest of the country emulated Massachusetts and was able to bring their gun violence rates down to what Massachusetts has done, that would save 27,000 American lives per year, 27,000 people wouldn`t die if other states were able to do what Massachusetts has done with their gun violence rate. So, it`s an -- it`s an interesting approach.

"The Globe" with this op-ed section is basically trying to put at the center of the debate what Massachusetts has done right, the kinds of policies that are in place in Massachusetts that have resulted in this best outcome in the whole country, so other states and the federal government should maybe think about copying it as a best-case scenario, as a best practices example. And on the occasion of tomorrow`s march, whether or not you are participating in D.C. or in your home state or in your home state, or whether or not you know anybody who`s going to this thing, I think intellectually, it is helpful to approach the challenge being posed by these Parkland survivors from a base of information, from within a framing that isn`t necessarily just something that is defined by the NRA.

The NRA has been such a driving force in terms of how we talk about guns in this country that they`ve shaped the terms on which we think about it. But think about it from the perspective of Massachusetts` success on this subject instead. I mean, as "The Globe" notes in their wraparound op-ed tomorrow, 78 percent of American adults don`t own a gun. Statistically speaking, it is way more normal in America to not own a gun than it is to own one.

Seventy-eight percent of American adults don`t own a gun. Half of all guns nationwide are owned by just 3 percent of Americans. And even among American gun owners, overwhelmingly, most American gun owners support fairly serious reforms on gun policy designed to reduce gun violence. And I think that`s why people are going to be surprised by the number of people who actually turn out in the streets tomorrow, the number of people are going to turn out in D.C., and the number of people that are going to turn out in these hundreds of events all around the country.

And there have already been some small changes. There were modest gun reforms already signed into law in the very NRA friendly state of Florida, which is where the Parkland shooting happened. In the big spending bill that the president got all weird about but then ultimately signed today, there is a provision in that bill to basically undo the prohibition that has stopped the Centers for Disease Control from even study and gun violence that enforced ignorant provision in U.S. law is it the most important thing in terms of gun safety reform, but it is something. And people have been complaining about it and talking about the idiocy of that law for a very long time, but nobody was able to change it before now. It has just changed.

The president has decided that the part of this he wants to work on is bump stocks. Bump stocks are an aftermarket accessory you can attach to your semi-automatic rifle to make it fire faster. The Justice Department will now be pursuing regulations to effectively ban or at least more strictly regulate those accessories.

So, the NRA would have you believe that any new gun regulation, any gun safety reform is the end of the American Constitution and therefore impossible for us to imagine, impossible to even hope for, right? But we`re about to find out what is possible if you stop just listening to them and start listening to literally everybody else who is affected by gun violence in this country. And tomorrow is a big part of that.

And on that subject, a sort of strange thing has emerged concerning John Bolton, the man who President Trump announced yesterday as the new national security adviser. Since that announcement, reporter Tim Mak at NPR has turned up a strange video, this video from featuring John Bolton.

Could we actually drop the lower third on the screen? The little -- thank you.

I want to play a tiny bit of this, but I -- you have to see the subtitles on the screen while he`s talking. Look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, INCOMING NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thank you for this opportunity to address the Russian people on the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Russian constitution. Today, you`re engaged in a historic debate about the possible expansion of your freedoms. Should the Russian people have the right to bear arms?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So, you see that the subtitles there are in Russian. NPR first to report today on what they`re calling John Bolton`s curious appearance in a Russian gun rights video. This video is from 2013. John Bolton is associated with the NRA. At one point at least, he was a member of the NRA international affairs subcommittee, according to NPR.

And in 2013, he appeared in this video that was directed to a Russian audience. It wasn`t just a generic video supporting the concept of gun rights in Russia. It was the video made on behalf of a Russian group called the Right to Bear Arms. And the Right to Bear Arms was founded by a Russian politician named Alexander Torshin.

Torshin has spent several years cultivating strong and sort of sketchy ties with the NRA here in the United States, including while he served as deputy speaker of the Russian parliament. He`s also associated with Russia`s internal security services.

And according to reporting by McClatchy several weeks ago, the FBI is reportedly investigating whether this Russian politician Alexander Torshin and his group the Right to Bear Arms somehow illegally funneled Russian money into the Trump campaign in 2016, using the NRA as their conduit.

Now, as you know, we`ve already had one Trump national security adviser end up in the middle of an FBI investigation into Russian influence in the Trump campaign in 2016. That didn`t end well. Now, it appears we`ve got another, and it`s not just the gun thing. He may find himself in the middle of that investigation not just on the NRA Russia money side of it, but also because of this.

This is an ad that John Bolton made for his super PAC. It`s imaginatively named the John Bolton super PAC. According to new reporting in "The New York Times" today, between the spring 2014 and fall of 2016, John Bolton`s super PAC received $5 million from Robert Mercer. He`s the biggest of all the Trump donors. He`s also the funder behind lots of Steve Bannon projects, including Breitbart News and the very controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica.

Bolton got $5 million from Mercer. What did he spend that $5 million on? Well, more than a million dollars of it, he shoveled back to Robert Mercer. He shoveled back to Cambridge Analytica. He used Mercer`s money to hire Cambridge Analytica, which is also funded by Robert Mercer, who`s taking money from Mercer and spending that another Mercer-funded identity.

The reason Cambridge Analytica is so controversial right now, the reason they fired their CEO this week and they`ve come under investigation in the U.K. and in the E.U. and they start -- sparked an FTC investigation of Facebook in this country is because of new revelations from a Cambridge Analytica whistleblower who says that the firm -- the firm used illicitly acquired Facebook data from tens of millions of Americans to run the core business of their operations.

In the case of John Bolton`s super PAC, Cambridge Analytica reportedly used that illicitly acquired American Facebook data to make ads for candidates who John Bolton`s support it, but they also appear to have use John Bolton`s PAC as a way to try to get more Americans data off of Facebook.

"The Times" reviewed the agenda of a 2014 meeting where the company explained, quote, in boldface text, that the company wanted to use Bolton`s voter contact lists to direct people toward the Facebook app that would be the Facebook app that Cambridge Analytica used to rip off personal data from million Americans who never consented to their Facebook stuff being used in that way.

Well, "The Associated Press" now reports that special counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing Cambridge Analytica and it`s connection to the Donald Trump campaign.

So, this is the third Donald Trump national security adviser now. Whatever you thought of Mike Flynn, whatever you have thought of H.R. McMaster and his tenure as Trump`s national security adviser, now that McMaster is out, you should know that the new guy Trump is appointed to replace him is going to start that job with potential entanglements in two different FBI inquiries -- one into the NRA and whether the NRA was a conduit for Russian money into the Trump campaign, and one into Cambridge Analytica and what its role was during the Trump campaign, including potentially its relationship to the Russian attack.

Being national security adviser is a really hard job. Being national security adviser while potentially being personally linked to two ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigations, that`s not just going to be hard, that`s going to be awkward. But there`s a lot more to get to tonight about John Bolton.

There`s also a rip-roaring news story that just posted at "The Washington Post" involving an attempt at a ten thousand dollar secret political payoff secretly recorded phone calls that we`ve got and we will play for you, and a sad sick horse in Alabama, I kid you not.

It`s Friday. Friday nights are always weird now.

Stay with us tonight. Lots to come.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I`m a dog person. I didn`t grow up that way but now I have a dog, like central thing in my life.

One thing I`ve learned about having a dog is that if the dog needs to take medicine, the dog needs to take a pill, you can`t just talk the dog under taking the pill. You have to hide the pill in something awesome. And I know some people do with peanut butter, I`m sort of partial to burying the pill in cheese or maybe a little sausage or something.

Today, I earned that if you`re a horse person instead of a dog person, when you have this same problem of needing your animal to take medicine, it`s a bigger problem than it is with the dog. You can`t solve it with a little bit of cheese or a little bit of sausage because horses are big and the amount of medicine they have to take is often very big too. So, you need to take more drastic measures.

I learned this today because of Steve Bannon. I learned this today from a recording of a phone call that was released by "The Washington Post".

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GARY LANTRIP: What`s up, brother?

EDDIE SEXTON: Hanging out. Trying to be de-stressed.

LANTRIP: I got (INAUDIBLE)

SEXTON: I`m actually about to crush up 13 giant pills and try to give them, trying to make a horse eat them with molasses.

He`s got a bunch of swelling, so I got antibiotics. Just crush them up with a sledgehammer and you pour molasses them and put it in sweet feed.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW: Crush up the pills with the sledgehammer, pour molasses on and put it in the sweet feed, bingo. I had no idea. Sledgehammer.

That phone call is between a lawyer in Alabama named Eddie Sexton who has a horse with some swelling, and an acquaintance of his named Gary Lantrip. Their conversation happened this past November, November 2017, in the midst of that astounding special U.S. Senate election in Alabama, the one that was so astounding, Alabama ended up electing a Democrat to the United States Senate.

This conversation about the horse pills on the sledgehammer, it took place just a few days after a woman had gone public with the eyebrow-raising accusation that the Republican candidate in that Senate race, Roy Moore, had initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14 years old, and he was 32. That taped conversation between Eddie Sexton, the horse guy, and Gary Lantrip, the reason this recording was released by "The Washington Post" tonight is because that conversation concerns a fairly jaw-dropping new storyline in the Roy Moore scandal, which involves former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

The reason you need to know about the horse cure that lawyer Eddie Sexton is describing at the beginning of that call is that throughout this taped phone call that lays out the whole plot, so central to the story, throughout the call, you will hear the very loud sound of Eddie Sexton crushing up horse pills with a sledgehammer. So, you`ll hear them talking about this whole plot but then the bang, bang, bang through the call, that`s the sledge-hammering of the pills.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEXTON: I was depressed though I didn`t get to meet Bannon. I thought didn`t he used to do that, the late night thing or something?

LANTRIP: Exactly, and you can meet him one day, you know, we met him, met him north of Washington, D.C. last week.

SEXTON: I want to meet -- I want to meet a real conspiracy theory guy.

LANTRIP: Huh?

SEXTON: I want to meet a real conspiracy theory guy.

LANTRIP: Well, you can really met him whenever and that`s fine.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW: You can really meet him whatever, that`s fine.

What they`re talking about there is the prospect of meeting up with Steve Bannon. Now, at the time of that phone call, Bannon was no longer in the White House but he was still the editor-in-chief of "Breitbart News". Bannon and Breitbart News were huge national boosters of the Roy Moore Senate candidacy in Alabama. They`d helped him beat the establishment candidate, the incumbent Luther Strange in the Republican primary.

But then when it came to the general election and more spacing all of these accusations, right, well this is the story that`s laid out tonight in "The Washington Post" by reporter Shawn Boburg and Dalton Bennett.

Leigh Corfman, a woman who made the accusation against Roy Moore, she went public with her story in early November. She turned to Eddie Sexton, a childhood friend, to be her lawyer, to help her manage the media scrutiny that was sure to follow her going public with this accusation. A couple of days after the story became public, Eddie Sexton`s longtime friend, Gary Lantrip, the guy we just heard him talking to on the phone there, he`s a Roy Moore supporter, he got in touch with Eddie and asked him to meet up.

Eddie brought along his business part -- and he brought along his business partner Bert Davi. Quote: Davi mentioned that he knew Steve Bannon. Davi said the "Breitbart" executive wanted to talk about whether Leigh Corfman`s lawyer, Eddie Sexton, would say publicly that he didn`t believe the accusations from Leigh Corfman. Sexton says Gary Lantrip or Mr. Davi told him that he could collect $10,000 and possibly more if he did that.

Eddie Sexton said he was disturbed by the offer but also intrigued by the prospect of meeting Steve Bannon. So, they agreed to meet again later that day. At that meeting, Eddie Sexton said, quote, he said Lantrip told him that they had the money for him, but then other people entered the picture. Quote: Matt Boyle, the Washington bureau chief of "Breitbart News" soon join them, Sexton said. Minutes later, the Jerusalem bureau chief of "Breitbart Jerusalem", Aaron Klein, also joined them.

On the table was a notebook he said open to a page that contained the handwritten statement that Mr. Sexton was expected to sign, the one disavowing this accusation from his client. He said they started discussing the possibility of issuing a statement undermining Leigh Corfman`s credibility.

Eddie Sexton said he told them he didn`t see any way he could make a statement disparaging his client. He would lose his law license if he did. And besides that he hadn`t even asked Leigh Corfman about the details of her allegations against Roy Moore, said I don`t know how y`all or anybody would ever believe me, Eddie Sexton says he told them.

And Matt and Aaron, those are the "Breitbart" guys, kind of tell me, well, that`s not really the point of whether or not anybody believes you. It`s just, you know, getting other information out there.

The statement which Eddie Sexton provided "The Post", statement they wanted him to sign, said this, it`s handwritten as you can see: After reviewing the allegations, after taking Leigh Corfman as my client, I believe there`s not sufficient evidence to back them up and that the case strains credulity. I decided that since I would have difficulty representing a client that I don`t believe I have -- that I don`t believe in, I have to recuse myself from this case. I hope Leigh the best.

So, that`s the statement Eddie Sexton says they wrote for him and tried to get him to sign, offered him 10 grand to sign it. Eddie Sexton never signed that statement, but later that day, he recorded a phone call with his buddy Gary Lantrip.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEXTON: I mean, have y`all -- have they already paid y`all money?

LANTRIP: No, just what I`m about to give you.

We got the 10 dollars. We got that, but it don`t matter.

SEXTON: Yes, I don`t know why they want to do it, because really, they ain`t no -- it just -- it`s stupid. He`s going to have so many things come out.

LANTRIP: Yes. What they`re saying all they want to do is cloud something. So, yu know, the first one come out, I`ll be a little bit to cloud, the second one come out, they clouded it, and they said, if they clouded the two of them that is all they need, I don`t care how many comes out.

SEXTON: Well, I was depressed though, I didn`t get to meet Bannon. I thought didn`t he used to do that, the late night thing or something?

LANTRIP: Exactly, and you can meet him one day, you know, we met him, met him north of Washington, D.C. last week.

SEXTON: I want to meet -- I want to meet a real conspiracy theory guy.

LANTRIP: Huh?

SEXTON: I want to meet a real conspiracy theory guy.

LANTRIP: Well, you can really met him whenever and that`s fine.

We got some chance to do something, make us a little quick little bitty, you know, nothing for us, so it don`t matter to us and them, on down the line, we could go to D.C. and blah blah blah blah

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW: Make a little bit little bitty make a little money now, it`s the implication there and then down the line, we go to D.C. and that`s when we`ll make it.

"Washington Post" spoke to both Gary Lantrip and Bert Davi for this story. They acknowledged trying to get the lawyer, trying to get Eddie Sexton to make this statement undercutting his client`s accusation against Roy Moore. They acknowledged arranging a meeting between the lawyer and the two "Breitbart" reporters, but they wouldn`t directly answer questions about whether any money was offered.

"The Post" also tracked down video events evidence of Gary Lantrip and Bert Davi at a Roy Moore fundraiser in D.C. on November 1st. It was hosted by Senator Rand Paul. Steve Bannon was also present at that fundraiser. "The Post" also published this video of Gary Lantrip and Bert Davi appearing to basically be Roy Moore`s wingman at an event in Jackson, Alabama, later that month.

In a statement to "The Washington Post" yesterday, Roy Moore said that Gary Lantrip and Bert Davi had attended rallies, but the campaign wasn`t involved in any effort to pay the lawyer. Quote: I nor anyone else in the campaign offered anyone money to say something untrue, nor did I or anybody else authorize someone else to do such a thing.

Spokesman for Steve Bannon said that Mr. Bannon could not be reached for comment on this matter. It`s an incredible story.

Shawn Boburg is the reporter who broke this story and he joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: "Washington Post" has just published a remarkable story tonight about Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama last year who was dogged in the final weeks of that campaign by accusations that he pursued or initiated sexual encounters with girls when they were teenagers, as young as 14, and he was in his 30s.

A lawyer for one of the women who accused Moore says that during the campaign, he was approached by two Moore supporters and by reporters from "Breitbart News". He says he was offered $10,000 and a chance to hang out with recently ousted White House official Steve Bannon if he would drop his client and publicly say that her allegations against Roy Moore were a lie.

The lawyer also has recordings of his phone calls to back up his story.

Incredible reporting from "The Washington Post" tonight led by investigative reporter Shawn Boburg.

Mr. Boburg, thank you very much for being with us. Congratulations on a truly bizarre scoop.

SHAWN BOBURG, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Why is the story coming out now?

BOBURG: The lawyer Eddie Sexton was reluctant to talk about this for months. He considered going public before the election, but he spoke with Leigh Corfman and he told us that she preferred that -- that nothing that he did be perceived as an effort to influence the results of the election. And there were also some other complications.

These two men happened to be his clients in a small civil case and so, he had some concerns about whether he wanted to go public. Another factor was that Gary Lantrip, the man you hear on the tape, is a longtime friend who he`s known for decades, which also explains why they spoke so frankly.

MADDOW: And if there weren`t money involved in this, if this were some guys who knew each other and some of them supported Roy Moore and one of them represented this woman who was making very damaging allegations against Roy Moore, and they were trying to -- they were trying to talk each other out of this or trying to talk each other into playing a specific role around this that took some negotiation, that would be itself be an interesting human drama in Alabama in the middle of the story.

But there`s this $10,000 that this figure that surfaces in your story, how much were you able to tell about the reality of that offer? Was $10,000 secured? Was it available to be paid? Do we know who put that money up if we believe the money was really there?

That would seem to make it a much more serious matter, potentially a criminal matter.

BOBURG: That`s a huge question, and I can tell you that Eddie Sexton in the recent interviews we did with him over the course of many weeks, extensive interviews, truly believes that his friend Gary Lantrip was offering and was prepared to give him $10,000. A huge unanswered question, of course, is, where would this money have come from?

An interesting fact here is that Gary Lantrip and Bert Davi, the two men that approached Eddie Sexton, have never donated as far as we could tell to any election in Alabama or federally. So these are two men who are -- don`t customarily reach into their own pockets to help a campaign and have not been politically active.

So, it does raise the question why money was brought up in this context, in this particular case.

MADDOW: And the other thing they were offering was a chance to spend time with Steve Bannon. Actually with the implication that maybe even some work -- some paid work might derive from a contact with Steven Bannon. Is there any reason to believe that these guys actually knew Steve Bennett or had contact with him?

BOBURG: Well, so, when you listen to this tape, you could easily dismiss this as a guy who`s just puffery, a guy who`s boasting but doesn`t really have these connections. One of the things that we were surprised to find after we listened to the tape and brought the -- you know, a reasonable amount of skepticism to it was that these videos surfaced where both Gary Lantrip and Bert Devi attended functions and campaign events with Bannon and the candidate Roy Moore.

We also were surprised when we went to interview Gary Lantrip and Bert Davi that both of them spoke about Bert Davi`s close relationship with Steve Bannon and although they wouldn`t explain the origin of that relationship or its nature, they were both very comfortable talking about Bert`s relationship with Steve Bannon.

MADDOW: Incredible stuff.

"Washington Post" investigative reporter Shawn Boburg who I feel like I just want to follow you around because you keep stumbling on really interesting, unexpected stories wherever you`re reporting -- thank you for helping us understand this, Shawn. Congratulations on the scoop.

BOBURG: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. Much more to come tonight. What a weird day.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Over three weeks ago now, on March 1st, Nicolle Wallace here at MSNBC was first to report that H.R. McMaster was soon to be out as national security advisor. He`d be out by the end of the month.

That reporting got a big response and it sparked a lot of speculation about who might get McMasters job if Nicolle Wallace was right and he was getting fired. You might remember from this show, there was one response online that we singled out here because it frankly hit like a thunderbolt.

Quote: if Bolton replaces McMaster and I`ve heard Kelly likes Bolton, we`re all going to die.

That was from Colin Kahl, who`s the former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. Well, now that that`s actually happened, now that McMaster is not just out but John Bolton is in to replace him, Mr. Kahl isn`t saying, OK, we`re all dead now. But he is still being pretty freaking stark.

This is what he`s just written for "Foreign Policy", which has the headline as you see: John Bolton is a national security threat. Mr. Kahl is now making a very considered, sober, well-thought-out argument but just like that initial tweet, it`s about as serious as a heart attack.

Joining us now is Colin Kahl. He`s a senior fellow at Stanford and former national security adviser to the vice president.

Colin, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I appreciate your time.

COLIN KAHL, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO VP JOE BIDEN: Great to be with you.

MADDOW: So, you alarmed me because I respect your expertise and I think of you as a non-hyperbolic person, and you were setting off an early alarm that John Bolton would be not just worrying but a terrifying choice. Why did you single him out?

KAHL: Well, I mean the tweet you mentioned was I guess a little bit of black humor and a dark a dark moment, but no, I think there are genuine concerns about Bolton, especially because there seems to basically be kind of a Bolton playbook that goes back frankly to the Iraq war and that playbook goes kind of something like this: take a threat, hype it, based it on questionable intelligence, define it as imminent and existential, say that diplomacy is a fool`s errand, especially with rogue regimes, and then claim that the only answer is military action, including preventive military action and regime change.

And that was the play that Bolton supported in the Bush administration towards Iraq and it`s the play that he supports towards North Korea and Iran today.

MADDOW: He has explicitly argued both in his many appearances on Fox News and in op-eds that the United States should not just take a harder line toward Iran and North Korea but that we would be perfectly justified in his phrase, with starting wars with both of them, with unilaterally moving head even without the support of our allies to just bomb them and try to end the regimes in those countries by starting wars.

How do you know in John Bolton or in any one whether a person is making an argument like that from the safety of an op-ed writer`s position and whether somebody actually having the influence to bring an end like that about might be more cautious? How can you tell?

KAHL: Well, I mean, in this particular case, I think we have a track record of him making the same arguments inside government when he worked for the Bush administration, first as an undersecretary at the State Department and then as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and then he`s consistently made it out of government. And it`s the exact same arguments he`s making today about North Korea and Iran, he was making about the entire axis of evil as George Bush called him back in 2002, with Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

And so, look, the concern and I think that a lot of analysts have is we`re entering an extraordinarily sensitive two months with both North Korea and Iran. We have Trump, you know, apparently going to meet Kim Jong-un by the end of May. Bolton will be his national security adviser in the context of that summit, and he`s already pessimistic about diplomacy and believes basically the summit should only happen so that we can get on with the bombing as soon as possible.

And then on Iran, the president also has to decide in mid-May whether to waive the nuclear-related sanctions associated with the nuclear deal and Trump threatened in January that he wouldn`t do that again unless Europe and Congress fixed the agreement and John Bolton doesn`t think the agreement is fixable and just thinks Trump should get out of it.

So, you know, coming in May, in about six weeks essentially, we could have a train wreck on two pretty big national security issues.

MADDOW: Colin Kahl, former senior fellow -- excuse me, senior fellow at Stanford University and former national security adviser to Vice President Biden. I wanted to talk to you because of your stark take on this. I don`t feel any better, but I am better informed. Thank you for being with us. I appreciate it.

KAHL: Thanks.

MADDOW: To underscore what Mr. Kahl just said there about Bolton wanting that summit to happen just so he can get it out of the way and get on with the bombing as soon as possible, he`s paraphrasing there, but that is actually the argument that John Bolton has made about President Trump meeting Kim Jong-un, that it`s a good idea so that these pointless negotiations will be over as soon as possible and we can stop talking and move on to what he really wants to do, seriously.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: You knew we couldn`t get through the night without it. We have just had what I think amounts to a late Friday night news dump from the White House. This has just happened.

You might remember last summer, in July, President Trump tweeted that he was going to ban transgender troops from the military. The administration got sued over that attempted policy change. A judge blocked it. With the ban not effect, the first new openly trans recruit just signed up a couple of weeks ago.

Well, now, tonight, just moments ago, not a tweet but a White House memo announcing what looks like a new attempt by President Trump to kick transgender service members out of the military.

This news is super fresh. We are still trying to figure out what it means but it appears they are going at this late at night on a Friday. This new policy appears to try to the allow some transgender service members to be grandfathered in, but it looks like it also restricts access to medical and ability to sign up for military service in the first place.

So, it`s a tweak to the first policy announced by tweet, just announced by the president, they just put out this memo. This -- I`m sure this will be in court before I finish with this commercial break.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Tomorrow`s going to be a really big day. The kids from parkland, Florida who survived one of the worst school shootings last month and have been on a tear ever since against gun violence, those kids and others like him are leading what`s expected to be a huge march in D.C. tomorrow, hundreds of other satellite marches planned in support all around the country.

MSNBC, you should know, is going to be live all day tomorrow and into the night with special coverage of what is expected to be a very big moment in American politics. Our politics, particularly on this issue, can seem stuck sometimes, but this part finally does seem to be on the move.

Again, full coverage live all day tomorrow and into tomorrow night here on MSNBC.

That does it for us tonight.

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

Good evening, Lawrence.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END