Trump fires VA Secretary, nominates WH doctor. TRANSCRIPT: 03/28/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Bob Bauer, Paul Rieckhoff

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 28, 2018 Guest: Bob Bauer, Paul Rieckhoff

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

Do you remember when he was going to hire his personal pilot to be the head of the FAA? Sure, why not? Trump air operations during the campaign included one plane tearing off the runway and almost careening onto a highway and shutting down LaGuardia Airport. Also, different incident, a hired pilot who nobody noticed was a fugitive from justice actively wanted on multiple violent felonies.

But Trump likes the guy who flew his airplane during the campaign and isn`t there something in the federal government that has to do with airplanes? So, sure, why not?

That idea came up just last month so who knows? It might yet happen, maybe Trump will put his personal pilot in charge of the FAA.

Today, we got pretty close to that idea and today it wasn`t just something being floated. Today, we learned of this as a fait accompli and admit it, admit it. When you first heard today that the president had named his personal physician to be the head of the V.A., admit it, first guy you thought of was this guy, right? It`s not that guy. Not that guy.

What was amazing about that guy Trump`s personal physician in private life it was not just that he himself was an incredible character, it`s that he submitted a physician`s report on the health of this presidential candidate Donald Trump that was like a cross between refrigerator poetry and North Korean state media articles about the dear leader`s 300th birthday, right? Remember that -- remember that thing he wrote? Trump`s laboratory test results were astonishingly excellent.

Anything that astonishes a person in a lab usually bad. His physical strength and stamina are extraordinary. If elected, I can state unequivocally that Mr. Trump will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency. That was a very strange iteration of the traditional doctor`s note about a presidential candidate`s health.

But then Trump did get elected and that history with his private doctor meant there was a little more excitement and intrigue than usual surrounding the president`s first physical exam by the chief White House physician, by a Navy admiral named Ronny Jackson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the president`s unbiased, 100 percent accurate health assessment. At the time of examination, the president was 71 years and seven months young, his wrist and heart rate was a cool 68 BPM, his weight, a very svelte 239 pounds. He has a gorgeous 44-inch Coke bottle waist, 75 inches with legs that well they seem to go on forever. Size 12 shoes, so you can fill in the blanks there.

It`s my expert medical opinion but the president`s got a rocking bod with the perfect amount of cushion for the pushin, and give him the chance I would. Are there any questions?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was not the actual White House physician. That was the "Saturday Night Live" version of the White House position because there had to be one. After the actual White House position gave his press briefing on the president and his health and it was so -- it was so excitedly positive, it left reporters who were also doctors like CNN`s Sanjay Gupta feeling like they had to re-translate for the American public the information that Admiral Jackson was providing, because maybe somebody should take the hearts off the eyes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: How would you characterize the president`s health to an average 71-year-old American male?

RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE DOCTOR: I`d say, based on his cardiac assessment, hands-down, there`s no question that he is -- he is in the excellent range. I`m from a cardiac standpoint. And that`s not me speaking. That`s objective data.

You know, you can look at the data that was collected and he will definitely fall into that category. Overall, he has very, very good health, excellent health.

REPORTER: Just to be clear, though, Dr. Jackson, he is taking cholesterol- lowering medication. He has evidence of heart disease and he`s borderline obese. Can you characterize that as an excellent health?

JACKSON: I mean, I think based on its current cardiac, you know, study -- I mean his heart is very healthy. Those are all you know things that we`re looking at with regards -- well, you know, you`re a neurosurgeon, there`s their stroke issues there too. But you know --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: President Trump has just announced that White House physician, Admiral Ronny Jackson, will be his nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Department of Veterans Affairs is the second largest agency in the government. It`s one of the largest organizations of any kind on earth. It serves 20 million veterans. It serves health care needs, 9 million veterans.

Dr. Jackson is beloved as a White House physician, not just by the Trump administration but by previous White House occupants as well. He was White House physician for George W. Bush and for Barack Obama as well. People loved him in that role.

He has never run any large organization of any kind before. Honestly though, I want to stress, people do really like him, people who have worked in the White House say he`s a great White House doctor and he`s really nice. We know for sure that he definitely likes the president, so there`s that. We`re going to have some expert advice in just a second as to whether or not this new appointment seems like a good idea.

But for now, it means we have to add another name to the departure board for only the third time, we have to put a Senate-confirmed cabinet secretary up there. The first cabinet secretary to go was Tom Price at Health and Human Services. Then, it was Rex Tillerson at the State Department. Now, we can add, I don`t even know which way to look, this way? This way. Three, two, one -- secretary of veterans affairs, David Shulkin.

Like lots of Trump cabinet secretaries, including Tom Price and Ben Carson and Ryan Zinke and Scott Pruitt and Steven Mnuchin and, and, and -- David Shulkin, the now fired secretary of veterans affairs, he too had embarrassing ethics troubles, including lots of taxpayer spending for what looked very much just like an expenses paid long European vacation for him and his wife. But like I said, there are lots of Trump cabinet secretaries who have that particular kind of embarrassing problem, even worse than he does. But now, he`s the one who`s out.

And part of this maybe just another instance of the president seeming to enjoy doing his shopping on TV. It may be that when everybody else saw, you know, over-the-top, hyper obsequious to the point of pleasant homoerotic tension, the president saw, hey, I like the way that guy talks on TV, right? I mean, we do know from weeks of reporting in multiple outlets that the president really wanted to hire for this job, one of the hosts of "Fox & Friends". Once he soured on David Shulkin, there was a guy at Fox named Pete Hegseth who the president wanted to put in the V.A. job. There`s a number of reasons why that didn`t and couldn`t work out. We`re going to have that story coming up in just a few minutes.

But the president isn`t hiding his light under a bushel when it comes to his preference for hiring people off TV. He hires people for big jobs because he likes watching the way they talk about those jobs on TV. There`s Larry Kudlow, a CNBC personality, just hired by the president to become White House chief economic adviser. Whether or not you liked Gary Cohn, the previous chief White House economic adviser, he at least had been president of Goldman Sachs. Mr. Kudlow comes from a TV show, right? After he hired Mr. Kudlow off of TV, we soon learned that the new national security adviser would also be someone who the president came to know because he enjoyed watching him on TV this time. This time, it was a contributor on Fox News, John Bolton. Although on that one, I have to tell you we`ve got some news tonight that suggests there may be trouble ahead for that national security advisor appointment. National security advisor position does not require Senate confirmation, but we learned from Trump`s first national security adviser Mike Flynn that there still can be trouble if you try to keep somebody in that job who`s caught up in active FBI investigations, particularly if they are active counterintelligence investigations. So, stay tuned for that, we`ve got that story coming up tonight.

Shopping off your TV set isn`t always a great way to vet candidates for senior administration positions and the cabinet. It turns out it can also be trouble for the president`s efforts to put together a legal team to represent him in the in the Russia scandal, in the Mueller investigation. One of the more remarkable things that happened just in the last week, god, it feels like years ago now, but just in the last week, the president`s lead lawyer on the Russia scandal quit when it emerged that the president had picked out two new Russia lawyers who he liked the look of on TV, Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, a husband-and-wife team from Fox News. They were going to go in to the president`s Russia legal team and so John Dowd, the president`s lead Russia lawyer took himself out, quit the job, walked away.

That all happened though before the president had actually met these two new lawyers anywhere then other through his TV screen. And when they finally arrived at the White House on Thursday night, it turns out the president didn`t like them as much as he had on TV. A White House official described them as disheveled in their appearance when they arrived at the White House. The president was said to be not as impressed with them in person as he had been when they had the TV makeup on and the underlighting and you can`t see their pants.

Anyway, that is that is how we have arrived at the president not really having a legal team on the Russia scandal anymore. Jay Sekulow is his one outside attorney now. He`s also a Fox News guy. He has been this -- spent this week trying to try to calm everybody down by saying it`s not just him he`s got other people working with him from his conservative activist legal group. That includes, we learned today, the author of this book, "Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes".

He has a PhD in medieval history which according to a "Reuters" profile published today, he pursued, quote, following a midlife crisis. He wrote his book on the Greek popes. He eventually went back to practicing law, mostly working as a sort of contract prosecutor for local D.A.`s in Georgia.

In terms of big high-profile cases, back in the `80s, he was involved in a Jews for Jesus case with Jay Sekulow, the Fox guy. But that`s pretty much it, he says in terms of big cases.

It`s kind of great for this guy, right? Look at the headlight on "Reuters" today. Spurned by top lawyers, Trump`s defense elevates Washington outsider. I mean, it is great for this guy. I mean, think about it, one day, you`re burned out working for county prosecutors in Georgia. You`re having a midlife crisis you end up trying to get your monograph published on the byzantine era popes. The next day, you`re a lead attorney representing the president of the United States on the biggest national security scandal to ever afflict the presidency. When you`ll have no experience whatsoever in anything like this. I mean, well done for him.

But for the presidency, it`s a weird situation, right? Especially since things do seem to be taking a bit of a serious turn in this big national security investigation that is swirling around the president. Lawyers for the special counsel`s office and for attorney Alex Van der Zwaan have now exchanged court filings in advance of what`s expected to be Mr. Van der Zwaan sentencing next week in D.C. federal court. This follows his guilty plea for lying to investigators.

Mr. Van Der Zwaan`s lawyers in this filing today literally argue, I`m quoting here, his days are empty and lonely. They provide a testimonial from his mother including the all-caps statement, Alex is the only support and joy of my life. Testimonial from his mother saying how much she loves him.

There`s a lot of detail from his pregnant wife and how much she loves him as well, his soul mate. He`s said to be very sorry, quote, Alex has learned his lesson and there is no risk that he will reoffend. Those are the kind of arguments that Alex Van Der Zwaan`s lawyers were making today to the court in response to those arguments, the special counsel filed their own document with the court in which they tore Mr. Van Der Zwaan`s head off.

The fact that your wife is having a baby isn`t reason for you to get leniency from the court. The fact that you stopped lying and pled guilty after we caught you that isn`t cause for leniency either. Quote: that he did not further obstruct justice is not a mitigating factor. He does not deserve credit for adhering to the law.

The special counsel`s filing on the Van Der Zwaan thing literally ends, its last sentence, with suggesting that if he really wants to get home for the birth of his first child, maybe he should hurry up and get to prison now to start serving his time.

Special counsel`s office is not messing around. And it`s important to remember that even though Alex Van Der Zwaan has pled guilty, he`s not cooperating. He has not agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. He pled and he wants them to be lenient because he pled, but he`s not cooperating with them. So, presumably, this very hardball effort by the special counsel`s office is an effort by the special counsels office to get him to change his mind about cooperating.

But -- this is important -- while they are ripping Van Der Zwaan`s head off in this filing, they also make explicit something that I think ought to be unnerving to this White House even if the president does doesn`t necessarily have lawyers anymore who could explain this to him. Quote: among the topics about which the defendant lied were his communications with Trump deputy campaign chair Rick Gates, his communications with a Ukrainian business associate of Manafort and Gates, person A, and his failure to produce an email between himself and the Ukrainian business associate, all important matters in the investigation.

The lies and withholding of documents were material to the special council offices investigation that Gates and person A were directly communicating in September and October 2016 was pertinent to the investigation. FBI special agents assisting the special counsel`s office assess that person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in quote during his first interview with the special counsel`s office, Van Der Zwaan admitted he knew of that connection, stating that Rick Gates told him person A was a former Russian intelligence officer with the GRU. That`s all in the Alex Van Der Zwaan sentencing stuff that`s gone back and forth, part of the story of those sentencing documents is Van Der Zwaan pleading for leniency and the special counsel not at all indicating that they are down with that with.

But the other part of it is the special counsel`s office showing their hand this is something they`ve got.

Dear Mr. President with no legal team these filings from the special counsel`s office now spell out explicitly that during your presidential campaign, your campaign manager and your deputy campaign manager were in frequent contact with -- what`s the phrase? What`s the phrase? With a person the FBI assesses to have had current ties to a Russian intelligence service, and they couldn`t have been unwittingly duped into doing this because your deputy campaign manager is on record telling other people at the time, hey, call this guy, he`s GRU, he`s Russian military intelligence.

And that`s not as guessing at what the special counsel`s office is looking at, that`s them telling us what they`ve got in court filings, where they`re also going super aggressively at a guy they already got to plead guilty, they`re still trying to get the court to throw him in prison even after his guilty plea.

So, the president likes turnover. He likes watching TV. He likes maybe hiring people from TV. He likes firing really senior people all the time and keeping everybody on their toes.

The president not having a Russia legal team anymore doesn`t even make this list, but the investigation is getting explicit and aggressive and it seems like it very well -- it may very well be about collusion with Russia directly. We`ve also now got the first report that the president may have been offering pardons to at least two of the people who ultimately got charged. There`s chaos in this young administration, sure, and that is interesting for all sorts of reasons. I don`t think though that you can separate that from the fact that there is also now a legal hurricane swirling around a basically unreinforced, undefended president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: "New York Times" is first to report today that President Trump`s lead Russia lawyer until recently, John Dowd, "The Times" reports that last year, he raised the possibility of the president issuing a pardon for Paul Manafort and for Michael Flynn. According to "The Times" John Dowd raised that prospect last year in discussions with Manafort`s and Flynn`s lawyers. "The Times" citing three people with knowledge of the discussions in its reporting today.

Quote: The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raised questions about whether the lawyer John Dowd was offering pardons to influence manta fort and Flynn`s decisions about whether to plead guilty and Cooperate in the investigation.

Of course, Manafort and Flynn made very different decisions on that score. Manafort pled not guilty. He`s now fighting more than felony counts from the special counsel. He`s looking at life in prison if convicted.

Flynn pled guilty and he`s not cooperating. If the president`s lawyer was talking pardons with them last year before they made those decisions, then why didn`t either of them end up with a pardon? And is the president or his lawyer potentially in trouble for doing this?

If the pardons were offered as a way of trying to dissuade these guys from cooperating with Mueller`s investigators is that a big deal, and is that potentially criminal? Obviously, the president has the power to pardon, it`s in the Constitution. But if he offered it that way to try to dissuade someone from testifying or cooperating in an investigation, might that be looked at as potential obstruction of justice.

Joining us now is Bob Bauer, former White House counsel to President Obama.

Mr. Bauer, thank you very much for being here. I really appreciate it.

BOB BAUER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: It`s a pleasure. Thank you.

MADDOW: First of all, am I asking the right questions here? It seems to me both as a matter of strategy that it`s interesting if these conversations happened that neither Flynn nor Manafort got a pardon. But then there`s also this question of whether this was a -- these were proper conversations to have.

Do those seem like the right questions to be asking?

BAUER: Yes, very much the right questions to be asking and I think it`s very clear they were improper conversations to be had. There is no way that the president United States` lawyer acting on his behalf shortly with his presumptive authority should be exploring a pardon with individuals who have testimony to touch and directly on his personal legal affairs, that either was a an exceptionally foolish thing for Mr. Dowd to do as reported, or B, it was part and parcel of an ongoing plan that the president had to try to dissuade them from giving unfavorable testimony by offering them the opportunity or the potential for a pardon.

MADDOW: When a president lawfully and normally exercises the pardon power, are there sort of firewalls set up, communication firewalls are is the president`s isolated in terms of the amount of communication he`s able to receive and from the right kind of people in terms of respectfully and legally considering somebody`s pardon in the right way?

BAUER: Very much so. Over time, pardons have been prepared in the first instance in the particular office of the Department of Justice, and there`s a real attempt for the White House to articulate the standards for granting pardons and for the Department of Justice to use those standards to prepare recommendations for the president of potential beneficiaries of pardons. All of this is coordinated between the Department of Justice and the White House counsel`s office, and it`s meant precisely to lend the appropriate sobriety and regularity to the president`s consideration of pardons.

For the president`s personal counsel in a legal case to discuss pardons with potential witnesses is really extraordinary.

MADDOW: And we should say that that John Dowd denies this in a pretty blunt way. He told "The Times" today that their story is not true. "The Times" standing by their story and by their reporting, but Dowd for his part says there were no discussions, period, as far as I know, no discussions. It doesn`t sound like a -- you know, over-lawyered, careful denial, it seems like a blunt denial, and we should be clear that that`s how he -- that`s how he`s talking about this.

I don`t quite know what to make about that blunt denial from him. I don`t -- I`m not inclined to believe that he would blatantly lie about something this serious.

BAUER: I have no reason to believe that he`s lying. I don`t have any information to suggest that. But I would point out first of all that he says, if one wanted to parse his comments, that there were no discussions of pardons. He may have raised it and then there was no ensuing discussion because the lawyers for Mr. Flynn decided not to pursue it further. So, there may have been no discussions but it may have been raised with him.

And then secondly, there`s the odd suggestion that as far as he knows, there were no discussions. Well, he was directly involved in the discussions and either he knows he was involved in them or he doesn`t. So it sounds to me a little bit like a variant on the "as far as I can recall", except it`s not stated quite that way.

MADDOW: It`s hard for me to separate controversies and reporting like this from the ongoing -- the ongoing troubles the president is having, assembling a stable and talented legal team to defend him and represent him in this scandal and related matters. What do you make of the fact that the president`s legal team has been so in flux and that now it appears to be quite small and it doesn`t appear to involve anybody who`s got relevant experience?

BAUER: The president certainly has had difficulty attracting the people who have the most experience. He`s also lost some of the lawyers that he started with. Mr. Kasowitz left, though he apparently is consulting with Mr. Trump by phone and now Mr. Dowd has left.

And one wonders, has the president concluded because of his view of his constitutional authority that maybe having lawyers of that kind of experience isn`t all that important? He`ll have the lawyers he can work with. He`ll direct them in how he wants him to behave.

Worse comes to worse, he will take the position that Mr. Sekulow has articulated and Mr. Sekulow was still on the team, that the president cannot in fact be prosecuted for obstruction of justice and failing that he`ll issue pardons in the belief that he has absolute pardon authority and he can`t be questioned about the issuance of pardons.

And if you have that regal view of your office, who needs lawyers?

MADDOW: You would -- I suggest -- I`m reading into the tone of your comments that you think that that regal view of his office would be mistaken?

BAUER: I think it`s entirely mistaken and I know that maybe Mr. Sekulow believes it. He`s articulated it. Some of Mr. Trump`s lawyers have articulated that view from time to time. I think it`s extremely ill- advised for them to count on that.

I think that we have seen over time that when those arguments are brought before the courts by presidents looking for special exemptions from legal liability, the courts have typically ruled against them.

MADDOW: Bob Bauer, former White House counsel to President Obama -- thank you for your clarity and your time tonight, sir. Much appreciated.

BAUER: Thank you. Bye-bye.

MADDOW: Yes. Not to put too fine a point on it, he`s essentially saying, try that. Go ahead. Try it.

We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: There`s a man named Pete Hegseth who`s a host on the Fox News Channel. He`s perhaps most well-known for the time he accidentally threw an axe at a West Point drummer on live television. Thankfully, the drummer was able to walk away with a few it`s just scrapes and cuts nothing too serious.

But the TV mishap, whoa, with the axe is not the most controversial thing about Pete Hegseth. He used to run a group called Concerned Veterans for America. They were funded lavishly by the Koch brothers. The reason Concerned Veterans for America came into existence, their flagship issue was to privatize the V.A., to essentially abolish the V.A.

The V.A. is a second largest agency in the federal government. It provides healthcare and other important services to million American veterans and because the V.A. is essentially an NHS style single-payer socialized medicine system, it is a conservative fantasy to kill it off and it has been for a long time.

Killing off the V.A. is of course a radically unpopular idea, most of all among veterans. But the Koch brothers picked it as a project and they funded Pete Hegseth and his veterans group specifically to make that radical policy position a mainstream option for Republican politicians. A lot of Republican candidates in 2016, including Donald Trump came out in support of privatizing the V.A., thanks in large part to intense lobbying by Pete Hegseth and his very well-funded group.

Mr. Hegseth soon became a very frequent face on Fox News, and then a host on Fox News, which is maybe why it should not have come as a total surprise when we started seeing multiple reports that President Trump wanted to get rid of the existing V.A. secretary and replace him with that great-looking veteran guy he liked from Fox.

As of this morning, Pete Hegseth was still reportedly the president`s number one pick to take over for now outgoing V.A. Secretary David Shulkin. The president had been telegraphing through the press for weeks that he wanted Shulkin gone and that he was going to replace him with TV`s Pete Hegseth.

But then this dropped into our inboxes today, courtesy of American public media. Quote: Pete Hegseth`s experience as a combat veteran and commentator on Fox would seem to appeal politically to the president, but his appointment could extend to disruptive narratives already playing out in the White House: marital infidelity and nepotism.

Hegseth engaged in two extramarital affairs with coworkers during two marriages and paid his brother who had no professional experience $108,000 to work with him while chief executive of a veteran`s nonprofit. And while running a political action committee in his native Minnesota, Hegseth spent a third of the PAC`s money on Christmas parties for families and friends.

And so, maybe that is the reason that took the president so long to officially announce he was replacing his V.A. secretary, because the guy he really wanted, the guy he found so attractive on the TV machine -- well, they were about to be some public issues with him that would be a hypocrisy problem for that young man given his public stern family values, anti divorced statements, including while he was running for office now that he`s just had a new baby with a nice lady he works with even before divorcing the second wife.

Well, today, the president announced that he is firing V.A. Secretary David Shulkin but he announced a surprise replacement, Dr. Ronny Jackson. He`s the president`s personal physician at the White House. If this president really does pick cabinet officials from the TV machine, Dr. Ronny Jackson has not been all over Fox News like his new colleagues. He`s a serving Navy admiral. He`s made just one TV appearance since the president took office but it was a memorable one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN: Good afternoon, everyone.

All right. So to start with, what I`m going to do is I`m going to read to you the summary of the president`s physical vitals as follows: age 71 years and seven months at the time of the exam. Height, 75 inches. Weight, 239 pounds.

He has a history of elevated cholesterol and is currently in a low dose of Crestor. All clinical data indicates that the president is currently very healthy and that he will remain so for the duration of his presidency.

OK. With that, I`ll take some questions.

REPORTER: Explain to me how a guy who eats McDonald`s and Kentucky Fried Chicken and all those Diet Cokes and who never exercises is in as good of shape as you say he`s in.

JACKSON: It`s called genetic. I don`t know. I would say the answer to your question is he`s got incredible genes and that`s the way god made him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: You can imagine the president watching that, right? The only thing the only words he heard were good genes, excellent health, blah, blah, blah. White noise.

Dr. Ronny Jackson is a real admiral -- rear admiral in the Navy. He served as White House physician for the past three administrations. He is by all accounts beloved in that position. He has no experience running any kind of large organization or federal agency, but today, the president picked him to run the V.A., the second largest agency in the entire federal government. Good genes.

Joining us now is Paul Rieckhoff, who is the founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who never knows what I`m going to say before I bring him on television, and he should not be associated with any of my comments.

Hi, Paul.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA CEO: Good to see. Sooner or later, you knew I`d be here.

MADDOW: Yes.

RIECKHOFF: This conversation.

MADDOW: Well, there`s been so much swirling around Shulkin for so long. Let me ask you about your reaction to his ouster, but also disappointment.

RIECKHOFF: Well, let`s take a bigger step back, right? The carnage and disruption and chaos of the rest of Washington has finally come to V.A.

MADDOW: Yes.

RIECKHOFF: Right? In many ways, it was kind of this isolated oasis but also it was just brewing below the surface. There`s been a lot going on a V.A. that would have been front-page news any other year, except this. So there`s been a battle going on all around the V.A. before the presidency, now into the first year the president, and probably for the next 10 years.

The very soul of the V.A. is at stake. Whether or not to privatize it, how much, and all the special interests that are swirling around it.

And David Shulkin was always in the middle of that. From the moment he was appointed -- you know, you and I think talked about this. We thought his shelf life would be pretty short.

He was a holdover. He was an Obama holdover. He probably wouldn`t last more than a year is what we predicted. So, this was probably going to happen at some point.

Now, here we are he had had a couple of I.G. investigations he started to lose favor with the president but also with veterans groups and the V.A. is tough to manage to begin with so once that started to hit the news it was only a matter of time before the president pulled the trigger now what about Ronny Jackson getting this nomination that`s a surprise. I mean, obviously, the president likes to, you know, look around in a room, see somebody who he can imagine in the job and sometimes it`s a surprise. In his case, he`s a serving Navy admiral that never run a large organization, knows the president, has a good relationship with them, is beloved in Washington.

Again, nobody`s got a bad word to say against him, but it seems like a strange fit.

RIECKHOFF: It`s a total surprise pick for sure.

MADDOW: Yes.

RIECKHOFF: He wasn`t on the short list last time, this time, any time. And as a doctor in the military, you know, it it`s going to feel like he was driving a sports car compared to driving the V.A. which is like an 18- wheeler that`s broken down and going through a combat zone with bad weather.

I mean, this is where you know top leaders go to fail. I mean, this -- we`ve had a V.A. secretary resign now or be fired the last three presidencies. We had Nicholson under Bush. We had Shinseki under Obama and now we`ve got Shulkin.

So, this is a tough job for anybody. We say it`s the second hardest job in Washington to begin with. But going into this environment, he`s an unknown so the confirmation hearings are going to be absolutely critical. We know where he stands.

Is he an empty vessel? Does he have strong political views on privatization or on other things, and how is he going to tackle women`s issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and reforming the second largest budget in the federal government? We`re talking about $200 billion and over 300,000 federal employees, who right now don`t know what`s going to happen.

That`s important to think about good hard-working people the V.A. haven`t no one was going to happen for weeks and they don`t know what the future looks like and incredibly intense political winds blowing around everything that he does. I mean, the reason I highlighted that stuff about this guy who might have been chosen had not things not gone the way they did is because there has been incredible lobbying to try to turn the V.A. into something very different than what it is. There`s -- that`s been the undercurrent for a lot of things going on around Shulkin in the past.

The veterans committees in Congress certainly are being buffeted by those winds as well.

Do you feel like that should be a central question that he has to sort of stake a claim for or at least show so the show is familiarity with --

RIECKHOFF: Yes.

MADDOW: -- in order to get confirmed?

RIECKHOFF: It`s the central issue.

MADDOW: Yes.

RIECKHOFF: I mean, ultimately, he`ll probably get confirmed we`ll see unless there`s a surprise and that`s the opportunity and putting a flag grade officer in is it`s probably someone who`s more likely to be confirmed. MADDOW: Just kind of deference to his military experience.

RIECKHOFF: Yes, that`s just happened before. I mean Shulkin went through a hundred to nothing. It was the easiest confirmation hearing in recent time. So, they have the advantage of the rank and the status that military officers have, but this is one of the most important confirmation hearings, you know, that I`ve seen in recent memory because it has to do with the fate of a huge of our government.

And in a political battle, that`s much bigger than V.A. this is about what the future of government looks like.

MADDOW: Yes.

RIECKHOFF: When it`s good, it`s the GI Bill. When it`s bad, it`s the Phoenix scandal and that battleground -- we`ve been saying for a long time it`s kind of like game of thrones winter is coming the winter is here and now, people are going to go to their corners and they`re going to rally.

And the veterans groups are really going to be in the middle here trying to hold the line and to really illuminate -- you know, add some light to all the heat that`s been surrounding these issues.

MADDOW: Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America -- so I feel like I`m never having you here on good news days, Paul, it`s always like some crazy help me through it.

RIECKHOFF: There`s been a lot of bad news.

MADDOW: Yes, thank you, my friend. Appreciate it.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you, Rachel.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I mentioned at the top of the show that there`s some new reporting that suggests there may be a problem with the president`s appointment of yet another Fox News personality. This one his choice for national security adviser. That new reporting about John Bolton, a potential problem for his appointment as national security adviser that`s next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Here`s the business website of a man named Tim Glister. He`s British. He works for, or at least he used to work for the British parent company of Cambridge Analytica, a firm called SCL. And you can see here that this British guy brags on his website he touts his experience working in the U.S. in the 2014 midterm elections, specifically working to elect Thom Tillis to be a Republican senator from North Carolina.

Mr. Glister says on his Website, quote: In 2014, I spent three months in North Carolina with an SCL consultancy team helping Thom Tillis -- helping Thom Tillis is successful senatorial campaign create highly targeted advertising that harnessed SCL`s national database of voter issue sentiments and psychographic profiles. In an extremely crowded market, we helped the Tillis campaign create a raft of communications across platforms that engaged voters with the issues they personally cared about and delivered victory against the prediction of traditional polls.

And then he -- on his Website he shows an ad from that election to illustrate his work on behalf of Thom Tillis during that election, which is weird because from what we can see, this guy is not American. He`s British. An American law says only American citizens are allowed to directly or indirectly participate in U.S. political campaigns at any sort of level that involves decision-making about the campaign. You can -- you can hire non Americans to lick envelopes or whatever, but hiring them to -- what does he say, to help Thom Tillis` senatorial campaign, create highly targeted advertising harnessing SCL`s national database of voter issue sentiment and psychographic profiles. Having somebody not American do that, that might be a little much for American law.

So, first of all, this raises question of foreigners working on U.S. campaigns. But second of all, this is about Cambridge Analytica, the data firm for the Trump campaign.

And put that same quote up again. This is -- this guy is bragging about the harnessing of the Cambridge Analytica database, the national database. According to Cambridge Analytica whistleblowers, that database is the one they obtained illicitly from Facebook. They took private data from more than 50 million Americans without permission, thanks to a stealth software package put together by a professor who was jointly employed by Cambridge University and a university in Russia.

Cambridge Analytica founded and funded by Trump donor Robert Mercer worked on a whole bunch of Republican campaigns in 2014. They then went on to be the data firm for the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.

Over the last week and a half, Cambridge Analytica and their parent company SCL, they`ve come under intense scrutiny. They`ve ousted their CEO, they got kicked off of Facebook they had their London offices raided by British authorities, they come under formal investigation not just by British law enforcement and parliament but also by the European Union.

And then there`s this: yesterday, British parliament held an emergency debate and took testimony on allegations that companies linked to Cambridge Analytica may have been used to dump tons of illegal money into the British Brexit campaign to leave the European Union. Now, part of that allegation from a disgruntled co-founder of Cambridge Analytica, its former research director, part of that allegation is that these companies linked to Robert Mercer were systematically set up used as a way to hide money that was going into campaigns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIAN KNIGHT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: Did you so it mention almost as an aside and there`s a couple of times actually, we had seen an in -- one invoice or more than one invoice with the word you keep on it, is that right?

CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, FORMER CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA RESEARCH DIRECTOR: Yes, I don`t -- I don`t have it but I can show you.

KNIGHT: OK, and it`s just it`s just interesting because you could quite famously the most colleagues will now have absolutely no money whatsoever. So I just wondering when they were doing in terms of to actually sort of pay for this particular --

WYLIE: Well, you have to remember, part of the brilliance of Cambridge Analytica is that it doesn`t like -- it doesn`t need to make money, because it`s Robert Mercer`s project, right? So, Robert Mercer doesn`t -- he`s a billionaire, he doesn`t need to make money, right?

So -- and further if you -- if you as an investor of a company put money as a shareholder, as an investor into that company, that`s not classed as a political donation, right? That`s an investment in a company that you`re the owner of, right? I`m improving R&D; I`m expanding our, you know, teams. I`m doing -- but you can do that more pointedly, you know, and continue to invest purposely into a company so that it can also work for particular entities at a subsidized rate or indeed in some cases for free.

So, one of the things that I`d also just point out is that just because there`s, you know, a bill with a particular number on it with (INAUDIBLE), it doesn`t mean that that`s the genuine value of the work that we have produced, because part of the brilliance of the setup that Robert Mercer created was that it becomes very easy to actually get around campaign finance laws in terms of declarations because it`s an investment. It, you know, he`s a shareholder, he can invest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So, what`s emerging out of this investigation overseas into the workings of this company that went on to be the Trump campaign`s data firm, it`s an allegation from a whistleblower at the company that the way this data firm worked is that they did lots and lots of work for campaigns, but they had the luxury of not really very much for it. Robert Mercer, one of the richest men on earth, could afford to just fund this company up the Wazoo, and then the company could therefore afford to charge a campaign almost nothing for their work no matter how much work they actually did. Presto change-o, right, Robert Mercer`s money funding these companies and entities in real life becomes Robert Mercer illegally over funding a campaign, right, without anybody on either side disclosing it.

That`s the allegation for the Brexit campaign in the U.K. By implication, that`s the allegation for Republican campaigns in the 2014 midterms here in the U.S. where they also allegedly had foreign workers coming over here to work on those campaigns as a sort of dry run, a practice run for the 2016 presidential race. And then, of course, that`s a question about the 2016 election itself when the Trump campaign paid Cambridge Analytica just under $6 million for running the campaign`s data operation.

Senator Amy Klobuchar brought that up on our show a few days back that maybe people should start looking at the smallness of that number.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: 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 has said maybe a hundred million dollars in value. That`s a potential major election violation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So, if these allegations about basically unreported outsized campaign contributions are true, the question for us now is how exactly did they do that if they did it? What are the mechanisms they use to make these kinds of contributions and to move this money around in American campaigns, what should we look for to try to find out if this money was moving this way in our politics?

Well, that brings us back to Thom Tillis and this British guy who`s been bragging online about all the work he did on Thom Tillis` campaign in 2014, including on this campaign ad he features in the Thom Tillis section on his Website. Let`s watch this. This is the very end of that ad that he`s been featuring there.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

MADDOW: See the bottom part there? This is an ad that a British guy is bragging about having worked on dreamed up for the Thom Tillis campaign, while he was working for the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. But according to the disclosure there at the end, it`s paid for by the John Bolton super PAC. John Bolton super PAC also funded by Robert Mercer, who also funded Cambridge Analytica, which is now facing missile whistleblower allegations that the company sent foreign workers into the U.S. to work on Republican campaigns and that these connected companies and entities were set up basically as a way to funnel Mercer`s money into campaigns without it being seen.

John Bolton super PAC appears to have been one of the links in that alleged operation and, of course, he has just been named national security advisor.

I should tell you, since we first got a look at that British consultant`s Website bragging about the 2014 election and Thom Tillis, couple of things have happened. I`ll tell -- I should tell you, the British guy didn`t answer our emails at least in the form of an email reply. But after we asked him about the John Bolton super PAC ad that he posted for his show and tell, he changed his Website. He took down the John Bolton super PAC. Now, he`s just put up in its place a very exciting picture of Thom Tillis, which may be the British guy also helped with I don`t know.

And now, instead of saying that he helps Thom Tillis is successful senatorial campaign create highly targeted advertising harnessing SCL`s national database a voter issue sentiment and psychographic profiles, instead of all that, now that he`s had the better part of four years to reflect on it, now since we started asking questions about that last night, he`s changed it to say that really he was just helping a local political party with something a lot simpler, none of that highly targeted psychographic profile stuff that`s in all the headlines now.

So, that`s the first funny thing that happened when we started asking about this. Second thing is that the Campaign Legal Center now says they intend to file this complaint with the Federal Elections Commission. We have a draft of the complaint. It alleges that the Bolton super PAC was making illegal unreported and excessive in-kind contributions to that Thom Tillis Senate race in 2014 -- John Bolton with all the Robert Mercer money.

It hasn`t even been a full week since the president named Bolton as his new national security adviser, but if the idea was to not end up in a Michael Flynn situation again, Bolton might have been an odd pick. Here`s Bolton in a Russian gun rights video for a group whose founder is reportedly the subject of an FBI investigation into whether he illegally funneled Russian money into the Trump campaign by way of the NRA.

Now, here`s Bolton`s showing up and reporting about Cambridge Analytica, which Robert Mueller is also reportedly investigating over the 2016 election and now comes this watchdog complained about Bolton`s PAC in the 2014 election. We are six days out from the announcing of Bolton for this incredibly sensitive job. Heck of a choice, heck of a way to get started.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I am terrible at this. Last night, I was early, tonight, I`m late.

It is 19 seconds past time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."

Good evening, Lawrence. I`m sorry.

END

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