Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 10, 2018 Guest: Jed Shugerman, Adam Schiff
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: We do have a little bit of news. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciate it.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. We do have some news to break. There`s a lot going on.
First thing I have to say is a question. Why was President Trump called David Dennison in the agreement that his lawyer made with porn star, Stormy Daniels?
Yesterday, the president`s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, had his office and his home raided by the FBI. Multiple news outlets report at least one focus of the search warrant they executed was for information related to that Stormy Daniels agreement and that $130,000 payment that Cohen says he made to Stormy Daniels. Today, we learned that Stormy Daniels is herself cooperating with federal investigators, as they look into that agreement and that payment.
So, if this thing is no longer a dispute between private parties, if federal prosecutors are now involved in assessing potential criminal behavior implicated by that agreement and one party to that agreement is cooperating with federal prosecutors in that investigation, then it`s worth understanding whether it`s only the president`s lawyer, Michael Cohen, who`s in trouble for that agreement or whether that trouble might extend to the president himself.
And so my question: in that agreement, you might remember that a pseudonym is used for both parties to the agreement. Stormy Daniels for her part in the agreement, she agrees not to talk about her alleged affair with the president in exchange for $130,000. In that agreement, she has a pseudonym. She`s called Peggy Peterson. Donald Trump also has a pseudonym in this agreement. He`s called David Dennison.
Now, what does Peggy Peterson mean? I have no idea. Your guess is as good as mine. What does Stormy Daniels mean really as a name?
But for the president`s pseudonym, there`s only one David Dennison that we know of in presidential history, or in adjunct to presidential history. Look at this, we got this from NBC`s presidential historian Michael Beschloss. This is from October, 1889.
Beschloss tells us this is a wire service story from 1889. I didn`t even know they had wire services then. But you can see the headline. General Grant`s secretary becomes insane. Dateline Washington, October 30th, 1889.
David Dennison Cone, who was for a time General Grant`s private secretary, what that means is he was private secretary to Ulysses S. Grant when Grant was president in the 1870s. David Dennison Cone, who was for a time General Grant`s private secretary was locked up Monday night at the first precinct station house, a raving maniac.
He is about 50 years of age. For the past year, his mind has been gradually failing him. When he became violent, his friends put him in the hands of the police to be taken care of until his relatives in Philadelphia could be notified. That`s David Dennison in history.
Let the record show that in the bizarre presidential porn star hush money sex scandal that led in 2018 to the FBI raiding the office and home of the president`s private lawyer, the pseudonym used to refer to the president in the legal agreement in question that led to all of this was apparently lifted from American history, specifically the history of the Ulysses S. Grant administration in which a senior aide to that president very publicly and flagrantly went stark raving crazy, to the point where it made the papers.
David Dennison is the president`s pseudonym in the Stormy Daniels` agreement. Who picked that name, and why? And if in fact this particular scandal ends up driving this president crazy, can we please get a rewrite for this portion of the script because this is getting to be a little bit over the top. Also, I would totally play Ulysses S. Grant in that movie.
After the FBI raids on Michael Cohen yesterday, the president today continued to insist that every bit of any investigation into him and his associates and his campaign and his administration, it`s all one big witch hunt. The White House press secretary today insisted to reporters that the president has been told that he has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. As a matter of law that is technically not the case, but that doesn`t mean that the president hasn`t been told he can do that.
Two people who are not technically the president`s lawyers were seen at the White House today in the wake of the Michael Cohen raid. Alan Dershowitz was spotted by "The New York Times" at the White House and somebody from Marc Kasowitz`s law firm was also spotted at the White House today by "Bloomberg News". Marc Kasowitz, of course, was fired after a public meltdown but now someone from his firm was back at the White House premises today.
That news comes as "The New York Times" reports this evening that the president told top staffers in December, December 2017, that he wanted to fire Robert Mueller. This new report from "the times" is the second time it has been reported that the president attempted to fire Robert Mueller as special counsel. Once apparently last summer, that was reportedly thwarted by White House counsel Don McGahn, and now this new report from "The Times" tonight suggests that once again in December, the president attempted to have Robert Mueller fired, although he did not end up going through with it. So, we`re going to have more on that breaking news story ahead.
All this happening today as one of the world`s richest men testified in Congress sitting on a booster seat, literally sitting on a booster seat. Today, his company, Facebook, admitted that when tens of millions of Americans had all their private data stolen off of Facebook by the data firm used by the Trump campaign, that stolen data even included any private messages you have ever exchanged with anyone on Facebook. It turns out private messages on Facebook were not private. If you got scraped by Cambridge Analytica, even your private messages went unredacted and with all your identifying information to the company that Steve Bannon was running in 2016, while he was also running the Trump campaign.
So, another thing that is going on, which you`d think would be the biggest story in the world, is the threat by the Trump administration tonight that they`re going to launch another military salvo of some kind against Syria. It was almost exactly a year ago that Trump did this the first time. That missile strike on an empty airfield in Syria was basically an event in isolation. It wasn`t tied into any larger strategic turn in Syria. It doesn`t seem to have changed anything about the course of the war in that country or the behavior of Bashar al Assad.
But now, a year and four days after those missile strikes on Syria, it looks like President Trump may be ready to do something similar again. Everybody is on watch in terms of the president`s decision on that and the Pentagon`s actions. We may be talking more about that this hour, including just the weird split screen of that military strike potentially getting approved by the White House, while the White House fires yet more top national security staffers.
This time, it`s the White House homeland security advisor and the National Security Council spokesman. Both of those men losing their jobs within the last 48 hours, as a new national security advisor, John Bolton, started at the White House yesterday. Obviously, no reason you might need anybody in those jobs while you`re about to start a brand new controversial military offensive.
So, there`s lots going on in the news tonight. This is one of those days when it sort of feels like all of Washington is on egg shells and something is about to crack and fail. But in the middle of all that, I would like to pile on something new, because we do have a little bit of a scoop tonight.
OK. This is Dana Boente. Dana Boente first became a public official of national interest when President Trump fired Sally Yates. Sally Yates was the acting attorney general of the United States. She was fired after she told the White House that she believed Trump`s Muslim ban was likely unconstitutional. That`s the reason she was fired.
But we soon learned that while she had been acting attorney general, she had personally gone to the White House to give the White House a warning about national security advisor Mike Flynn and his communications with the Russian government, which he had been lying about. And this all happened very quickly, at the very start of the Trump administration.
Trump got sworn in on Friday, January 20th. Flynn was interviewed by the FBI the following Tuesday, January 24th. On Thursday the 26th, Sally Yates was up at the White House giving them that warning about Flynn. Then she got called back the next day, asked to come back to the White House to discuss that warning further. That was Friday, the 27th.
Then there was the weekend and then on Monday, she was fired, January 30th. It all happened very quickly, the whole first ten days of the Trump administration. She was out. She was fired even before Flynn was.
One of the enduring mysteries about the Russia investigation and this president and this White House is that even after these totally unprecedented warnings from the Justice Department, with the acting attorney general coming to the White House in person to deliver this unprecedented warning about the national security advisor being compromised by a foreign power, even after that warning and then subsequent warnings the next day, they kept that guy on for another 18 days. They didn`t fire Flynn until mid-February -- an enduring mystery that has yet to be explained.
Well, a few weeks after they finally did fire Flynn, in May of 2017, we found out in "The New York Times" that the White House had actually had way more warning about Flynn than just that heads up they got in person from Sally Yates. "The New York Times" was first to report in May of last year that Flynn had actually warned the White House during the transition that he was under federal investigation. I still remember reading this dramatic headline for the first time: Trump team knew Flynn was under investigation before he came to the White House. They did?
Quote: Michael T. Flynn told President Trump`s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation. Despite this warning, Mr. Trump made Flynn his national security advisor anyway. This article in "The Times" in May of last year, this is where we first learned that federal prosecutors, in fact, a veteran espionage prosecutor, was actively pursuing a criminal investigation into the president`s national security advisor with a grand jury and subpoenas and the whole shebang.
Quote: The pace of the investigations has intensified in recent weeks with veteran espionage prosecutor, Brandon Van Grack, now leading a grand jury inquiry in northern Virginia that`s scrutinizing Mr. Flynn. It`s begun issuing subpoenas to businesses that worked with Flynn and his associates.
"The New York Times" reviewed one of the subpoenas. It demands all records, research, contracts, bank records, communications and other documents related to Flynn and his business Flynn Intel Group, his business. The subpoena reviewed by "The Times" was, quote, signed by Dana J. Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
All right. So, this revelation back in May was stunning at the time for a few reasons. One, the president`s national security advisor was being investigated by a grand jury led by a veteran espionage prosecutor. Two, the White House knew that during the transition and they hired him to be national security advisor anyway.
But the other reason that was stunning is because the federal prosecutor whose office convened that grand jury, the guy whose office that investigation was being run out of, the guy signing the subpoenas, was Dana Boente, right, this same guy who Trump had made the acting attorney general of the United States after he fired Sally Yates. And in fact, Boente went through a whole string of the highest jobs in American law enforcement in the first months of the Trump administration.
It`s important now, I think, to recognize that at every step of the way, he had a key role in the Russia investigation. I mean, the first thing that was unusual about the way Trump treated Dana Boente is that he kept Dana Boente on as the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia when he fired all the other U.S. attorneys. We later found out that Boente had been overseeing an investigation into Michael Flynn in the Eastern District of Virginia.
We later learned that in office, as the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, Boente was also signing off on subpoenas and overseeing an ongoing investigation not just into Flynn, but also into Paul Manafort. I mean, Trump did fire all the U.S. attorneys last March. Boente was one of the only ones he kept on.
And we later found out that Boente`s office was running those investigations into Flynn and Manafort.
Then Trump makes him acting attorney general. As acting attorney general, he became responsible for all of the various threads of the Russia investigation beyond just the parts he had already personally been helming in Virginia. So, he`s acting attorney general. That lasts until Jeff Sessions comes on.
Jeff Sessions comes on. Boente then gets another plum job. He gets named acting deputy attorney general. And that meant for a few weeks he actually was no longer responsible for overseeing the whole Russia investigation.
But that only lasted a few weeks until Sessions had to recuse himself. Then once again as acting deputy attorney general, Dana Boente, was back in charge of overseeing all the parts of the Russia investigation nationwide again. He only had a few weeks off. In that capacity as acting deputy attorney general, we now know Boente signed off on the FISA warrant to conduct surveillance against former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.
And then even after he got moved out of that job, after Rod Rosenstein got confirmed by the Senate and he took over as the deputy attorney general, Boente still was instrumental to the Russia investigation, because Trump gave him another awesome job. He made him acting head of the national security division at the Justice Department. And we learned just last week that in that capacity, Boente personally signed off on some of the most important criminal charges that were brought against Paul Manafort when he was first indicted.
So, Dana Boente -- I mean, not the most memorable looking guy in the world, right? He turns out to be the Zelig of the Russia investigation, he`s everywhere. Maybe he`s the Forrest Gump, choose your movie, right? But he really has played a key role, and at times the key top supervisory role in the Russia investigation all the way back to the beginning.
And I will tell you at a personal level, I remain convinced that there`s some interesting story to tell about why Dana Boente got fired from the Justice Department after having all those jobs. Right when Manafort got indicted for the first time, Boente got fired from the Justice Department and we still don`t know why. He was abruptly told to resign, both from his job as head of the National Security Division and as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. He held those jobs at the same time.
They abruptly told him to resign right at the time Manafort was indicted. We still don`t know why. There`s -- I believe there is a story to tell there and some day we will tell it, mark my words.
But Boente ultimately got a soft landing. Yes, he got pushed out of the Justice Department after holding off those jobs, but then the FBI hired him. The FBI hired him as their general counsel, which is where he works now. And arguably, that means he still has an important role to play in the Russia investigation as the FBI increasingly comes under attack as an institution, both from the president and from Republicans in Congress, who are hostile to the whole Russia investigation.
So, Dana Boente is the man in the middle. From the very beginning here, he is right at the heart of all of this.
And here`s what we figured out. Here`s our little scoop. We have obtained some documents that have not previously been seen or reported on, which we are going to show you tonight.
We have authenticated them to the best of our ability. And what we believe these documents show is a few important things about Dana Boente and the Russia investigation.
First, we can report exclusively right now that Dana Boente has been asked to be interviewed by the special counsel`s office in the Russia investigation. We know that because of this letter which we have obtained. It`s dated January 2nd, 2018. It is a letter from Dana Boente, while he was still acting head of the national security division at the Justice Department. It`s a letter to another Justice Department official notifying DOJ that this request has come in.
As you can see at the top of this letter, it`s addressed to Scott Schools. Scott Schools is the senior most career attorney at the Justice Department.
Here`s how the letter starts. Quote: Dear Mr. Schools, special counsel Robert Mueller has asked to interview me as part of the investigation of the Russian government`s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. In the event, I do not submit to the interview, special counsel Mueller would have an authority to issue a subpoena for my testimony before a grand jury.
Boente says: I served as acting deputy attorney general from February to April. I should note there`s a little typo there. See, it says February, 2011, we think he means 2017 there, but that typo is unexplained in terms of this letter.
Served as acting deputy attorney general and as head of the national security division from April to the present, and he`s writing in January of this year. He says, as the acting deputy attorney general, I was responsible for the overall operation of the Department of Justice and given the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, I was also responsible for the investigation of the Russian government`s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The requested interview from Mueller concerns activities occurring within the bounds and scope of my duties within the Department of Justice. And this is important. He says, quote, I have no reason to believe that I am a subject or target of the investigation.
So, Dana Boente is not a target, he`s not a subject, or at least as far as he knows he`s not. That means that he`s a witness for the investigation. He`s telling the Justice Department, he`s notifying the senior career official of justice that he has been called in to give witness testimony for Mueller.
And then he closes this letter of notification by asking for legal representation in this matter. He says, quote, I am requesting representation or a commitment for the reimbursement of legal fees. So, give me a lawyer or pay my legal fees for me to hire one. Signed sincerely, Dana J. Boente.
So, this document is previously unreported. And we have not confirmed if Dana Boente ultimately did an interview with Mueller`s prosecutors. But this letter from him to the senior career official at the Justice Department indicates that Dana Boente has been asked to do that interview.
Dana Boente, who`s had all of those senior Justice Department jobs, who served as U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, including at key moments in the Russia investigation, and who`s now the general counsel of the FBI.
And now, here`s where it gets good. We have also obtained this document from another senior Justice Department official. This time, it`s the head of the counterintelligence division at the FBI.
This is a letter from that official to Dana Boente. It`s an unusual thing. You can see here, this letter is dated just over two weeks after Boente notified the Justice Department that Mueller wanted to talk to him.
This is dated January 17th. And this letter from the FBI counterintelligence division is essentially a certification for Boente that a certain set of notes that he took, handwritten notes that were marked by a Justice Department employee as top secret, those notes are not actually top secret at all.
Check it out. Quote: Dear, Mr. Boente -- and then you see the "U" there at the start of the paragraph. I think that means this is unclassified, "U".
Dear, Mr. Boente, this letter serves as confirmation under my authority as an FBI official -- excuse me, FBI original classification authority that your handwritten notes derived from your March 30th, 2017, conversation with former FBI Director James Comey are unclassified. Quote, understanding that your notes were marked as top secret by an employee of the Justice Department without your consultation, this letter memorializes a duly authorized finding that the contents of your notes are not top secret or classified at all.
OK, you`re getting the importance now of what we`ve obtained here. At the very start of January, day after New Year`s Day, Boente tells Justice Department he`s going to be interviewed by Mueller. He asked for legal representation or commitment to pay his legal fees.
A couple of weeks later, Boente gets a certification from counterintelligence at the FBI that his notes, handwritten notes from a specific conversation with James Comey shouldn`t be marked top secret. That was improper. They are not classified as all.
Now, we don`t know for sure, because these are the documents we`ve got. What we surmise is that Boente is getting his ducks in a row, so he can show these handwritten notes to people while preparing for his interview with Mueller, or perhaps more directly, he`s preparing to hand over those notes to Mueller as part of this interview.
Well, we have also obtained those handwritten notes. Notes from Dana Boente on his conversations with James Comey while Comey was FBI director. Specifically, we have obtained his notes from a conversation in which Comey says he was pressured by the president about the Russia investigation. This is key to the question of whether or not the president may be criminally liable for obstruction of justice.
Comey told Congress in June after he was fired that the president had pressured him on the Russia investigation in a phone call on March 30th of last year. He told Congress, he told Congress, I can give you from his testimony -- quote, immediately after that conversation, I called acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente to report the substance of the call from the president.
This is a key, key matter in the question of whether the president could be liable for obstruction. Comey says the president pressured him. The White House responded by saying, no, the president did no such thing. Comey says, hey, I`ve got corroborating evidence for my side of the story and that corroborating evidence is that I told other senior Justice Department and FBI officials about what happened between me and the president at the time it happened.
Since then, Comey himself and a number of officials he says he told at the time about the president`s behavior have all ended up on the proverbial guillotine, right, including Comey himself, fired and attacked by the president as a liar, attacked by Republicans and conservative media for almost a year.
Also, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, fired and attacked in much the same way. McCabe says it`s because he can corroborate Comey`s testimony from his interactions with the president at the time.
Other people briefed by Comey at the time have also been mysteriously demoted and/or attacked by the president ever since. He`s been picking off those witnesses one by one.
Well, Dana Boente is one of those officials who Comey briefed at the time. And yes, he did end up getting pushed out of the Justice Department in mysterious circumstances this past fall and we don`t really get that yet. But he`s at the FBI now as their general counsel, and we have now obtained what we believe are Boente`s contemporaneous notes from his conversations with Comey at the time of Comey`s troubling interactions with the president from March 30th.
And those notes do corroborate in very striking terms exactly what Comey says happened between him and the president. Before now, nobody has ever seen these contemporaneous memos or notes from those interactions between Comey and the president, but we`ve got them tonight and we`re going to show them to you, next.
MADDOW: So our big news tonight is that we have obtained what we believe is a copy of the handwritten notes that Justice Department official Dana Boente took on March 30th, 2017, when he got a phone call that day from FBI director James Comey. On that date, Dana Boente was the acting deputy attorney general of the United States. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was recused from overseeing the Russia investigation and so, Dana Boente on that date was in charge of overseeing all strands of the FBI investigation into the Russia matter.
Now, special counsel Robert Mueller had not yet been appointed. That wouldn`t happen until several weeks later after FBI Director James Comey was fired. So, on the occasion of this call from which we have photocopies of the handwritten notes, you should know that Comey was still FBI director and he was phoning Boente to report what had just happened between him and the president.
Comey would later explain to Congress that he took notes himself on this interaction with the president and others, and he briefed other senior officials, senior law enforcement officials about this interaction with the president and others because he believed those interactions were -- for lack of a better term or phrase -- sort of important and unusual. He wanted to make sure there was a record of those interactions.
Now, the president would later denounce James Comey as a liar, saying that his accounts of his interactions with the president were not true. But now for the first time we can compare Comey`s public statements about what he says the president did, we can compare those public statements with the notes taken by someone who Comey briefed about it that same day.
All right. You can see the heading here. First, it`s marked top secret. And then that is crossed out and the cross-out is initialed by the head of the counterintelligence division at the FBI, who also provided what amounts to a cover letter to these notes, explaining that this top secret stamp was basically affixed in error and these notes are not in fact classified.
Then, here`s the top line of the notes. Comey, March 30, 2017, 8:13 a.m. The handwriting here is a little sketchy. We believe this to be Dana Boente`s handwriting. And then it says here in the notes: cloud as a result of Russia business. This makes running the country difficult.
That`s in Boente`s handwritten notes as what Comey described the president as saying to him, to James Comey.
Compare that with what James Comey himself described publicly about that interaction with the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You described two phone calls that you received from President Trump. One on March 30 and one on April 11, where he, quote, described the Russia investigation as a cloud that was impairing his ability, end quote, as president and asked you, quote, to lift the cloud, end quote.
How did you interpret that? And what did you believe he wanted you to do?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I interpreted that as he was frustrated that the Russia investigation was taking up so much time and energy I think he meant of the executive branch, but in the public square in general, and it was making it difficult for him to focus on other priorities of his.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, Comey tells Congress that the Russia business was a cloud, that the president believed was impairing his ability as president. That`s what he said to Congress out loud. Comey explains that the same way to Dana Boente, according to these notes.
Quote, cloud as a result of Russia business. This makes running the country difficult. So that very closely tracks, his public testimony with what he apparently told Dana Boente that day.
Here`s more from Comey`s written testimony to Congress that day. On the morning of March 30th, the president called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as a cloud that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, he had not been involved with hookers in Russia, he had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what he could do to lift the cloud.
I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could and that there would be great benefit, if we didn`t find anything, to our having done the work well. The president agreed but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him. That is what James Comey testified in his written testimony to Congress.
From these notes we have just obtained, it appears that is exactly what he told Dana Boente the president said too. From Boente`s notes. Quote: what can I do to relieve the cloud? Kept coming back to it, making it hard to do business for the country. We will do the work well.
Again, Comey`s testimony to Congress about the president`s call to him on March 30th about the Russia investigation closely tracking, including exact phrases, closely tracking what these notes say he told Dana Boente about the president`s call.
I`ve got two more. Actually and for this second to last one, let`s go back to that Comey exchange with Feinstein. There will be a little overlap here in the tape you just saw, but watch this to the end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEINSTEIN: You described two phone calls that you received from President Trump, one on March 30 and one on April 11, where he, quote, described the Russia investigation as a cloud that was impairing his ability, end quote, as president and asked you, quote, to lift the cloud, end quote. How did you interpret that? And what did you believe he wanted you to do?
COMEY: I interpreted that as he was frustrated that the Russia investigation was taking up so much time and energy. I think he meant of the executive branch, but in the public square in general, and it was making it difficult for him to focus on other priorities of his.
But what he asked me was actually narrower than that. So I think what he meant by the cloud, and I could be wrong, but I think what he meant by the cloud was the entire investigation is taking up oxygen and making it hard for me to focus on the things I want to focus on. The ask was to get it out that I, the president, am not personally under investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The ask was to get it out, that I, the president, am not personally under investigation. That`s what Comey told Congress about the president`s specific request to him in that call March 30th, 2017.
Here`s what Comey apparently told Boente that same day so there would be a corroborating witness to this ask from the president. From Boente`s notes, quote, reminded him we are not investigating you. That would be great to get out.
So, Comey tells Congress what the president asked him to do was make a public statement announcing the president wasn`t under investigation. Comey apparently used that same description when he called Dana Boente that day to brief him on the president`s behavior.
All right, last one. Part of the obstruction of justice concern here is that the president shouldn`t have been calling James Comey anyway, shouldn`t have been making this direct call to the FBI director about an ongoing investigation. The president shouldn`t be having one-on-one solo communication with the FBI director about matters actively under investigation.
Now, Comey explained to Congress that according to the rules, he shouldn`t be talking to the president about this stuff alone at all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Did you go to anyone at the Department of Justice and ask them to call the White House counsel`s office and explain that the president had to have a far better understanding and appreciation of his role vis-a-vis the FBI?
COMEY: In general, I did. I spoke to the attorney general and I spoke to the new deputy attorney general, Mr. Rosenstein, when he took office and explained my serious concern about the way in which the president is interacting, especially with the FBI. And I specifically as I said in my testimony asked the -- told the attorney general, it can`t happen that you get kicked out of the room and the president talks to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Told the attorney general it can`t happen that you get kicked out of the room and the president talks to me. Meaning I can`t be having these conversations with the president alone.
So, that`s what Comey told Congress. He says he let the Justice Department know, he let the attorney general know, it can`t be that the attorney general gets kicked out of the room and the president talks to the FBI director alone. Can`t happen.
That`s what Comey says to Congress about what his conversations were like on this subject, right? Well, it turns out the notes that we have obtained indicate that he told Dana Boente the same thing. Quote: Told A.G. before his recusal, I cannot be speaking with the president alone.
So, the FBI director, James Comey, told Congress about his basically strange interactions with the president on the Russia investigation. He says he had these interactions with the president that were about the Russia investigation that were strange and then the president fired him.
The president later told visiting Russian officials in the Oval Office and he told Lester Holt on NBC news that the firing of James Comey did have to do with the Russia investigation. The president just yesterday made public claims that firing James Comey was the right thing to do. The president has spent the last year denouncing James Comey as a liar, saying he`s somebody who lied publicly about his interactions with the president before he was fired by the president.
Well, these notes which we believe are Dana Boente`s firsthand handwritten notes from his conversation with Comey after that March 30th call, this is the first contemporaneous evidence that we, the public, have seen of what James Comey told other public officials at the time about the president`s behavior. And as best as we can tell, it absolutely matches his public statements about the president`s behavior.
Now, we have a few other documents that we have obtained that we are still reporting out. This is what we`ve got so far.
I should tell you, we have reached out to the Justice Department, no comment. We`ve reached out to the FBI, no comment. We`ve reached out to James Comey, no comment. Dana Boente, no comment.
But we`re working on changing as much of those as we can.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, we`ve been talking tonight about a new set of documents that we`ve obtained exclusively. We believe they are the handwritten notes of former Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, who`s now the current general counsel of the FBI. These are notes that appear to memorialize what FBI Director James Comey told Dana Boente about pressure he got from the president on the Russia investigation, specifically in a phone call on March 30th, 2017.
These notes we believe show James Comey saying in private to Dana Boente on the day of that conversation very much the same thing that he told the Senate later under oath after the president had fired him.
Quote, what can I do to relieve the cloud? Kept coming back to it makes it hard to do business for the country. We will do the work well.
All of that echoing almost to the exact phrase the way Comey described the president`s behavior and statements under oath later to the Senate.
Also, this note in which Comey appears to have told Dana Boente, quote, told A.G. before recusal, I cannot be speaking with the president alone.
Joining us now is Jed Shugerman. He`s a professor at the Fordham University School of Law. He has been an eloquent legal observer in this matter. Mr. Shugerman, thank you for being here.
JED SHUGERMAN, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY LAW PROFESSOR: Well, thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Let me just ask your top line response here. I have been very enmeshed in authenticating these documents, figuring out the relevance, trying get comment from all people involved. I feel like I`m sort of seeing the trees but not the forest.
Now that you have just learned this information as our viewers have, what is your reaction?
SHUGERMAN: Well, it was quite -- this is quite a story that you have and I was interested in how I think this does a couple of things. One is this starts building the case or is part of building a case for obstruction of justice.
So, my view has been that firing Comey by itself was enough, was sufficient arguably to build an obstruction of justice case under statutes. To build that case, you need to establish, quote, corrupt intent. And so, you can only get into the mind of Trump through a couple of things. It helped that he told Lester Holt, as you said, on NBC, I fired Comey because --
MADDOW: I was thinking of the Russia --
SHUGERMAN: -- I was thinking of the Russia investigation. He tells Kislyak and Lavrov in the Oval Office the day after he fired Comey that`s what he was doing.
But a prosecutor will want to go backward and say, this is part of a pattern.
MADDOW: So, even if it`s just the firing itself that is the act of obstruction of justice, previous meetings and previous contacts between the president and the person he fired leading up to the firing end up being legally important because they go to the president`s state of mind, the why, as to why the firing happened and whether or not it was an illegal act?
SHUGERMAN: That`s exactly right. For a criminal prosecution, you need two big pieces. One is a bad act, which would be in this case firing Comey. And then you need the mental element, the mens rea, which is what was in the person`s mind, what were they intending.
And so, that intent, we have lots of pieces of evidence. Comey`s testimony suggests that there`s this background leading up to the firing. But contemporaneous notes show that it`s not just a he said/he said, but that you also have Comey with contemporaneous notes and backed up by people he spoke to with those notes.
So, it`d be very important not just to compare Boente`s comments with Comey`s testimony, Comey has contemporaneous notes. It would be really important for a prosecutor to line up Comey`s notes and show that they are consistent from the contemporaneous notes of Boente.
MADDOW: So in terms of evidence of what happened between Comey and the president, understanding what you just said about why that is potential for any potential criminal case here about the president obstructing justice, we know that Comey tells us he took notes and we know that those memos were shared with other people and we believe they were also shared with the Mueller investigation. We know that he also at least in this case with Boente appears to have orally briefed other people contemporaneously in that moment and they took notes.
I mean, I`m getting pretty good at reading Dana Boente`s handwriting. This seems to me like very detailed information, including quotation marks around specific phrases.
SHUGERMAN: That`s right.
MADDOW: How does a court evaluate the authenticity -- not the authenticity, I guess the veracity of remarks like that?
MADDOW: I mean, does the weight of them, the number of them matter?
SHUGERMAN: Well, you can`t really carbon date from a year ago, right?
SHUGERMAN: But you look at the notes, it`s not just a sliver or a cutout. You`d see that the notes are taken over time. And you`d ask a jury to look at it and you`d have to establish these notes look like they were over a series of weeks that they look like they are in a flow of a narrative.
So that would be a way to authenticate. And, you know, it`s not like there`s a perfect science about this, but when you line up notes together and you show that they are contemporaneous, that`s a way that they do it.
But I do want to emphasize one other thing which is for this obstruction of justice case, it seems like if Boente is taking these kind of detailed notes which are so consistent with what Comey`s testimony, I want to go back to February 14th, Valentine`s Day, where there was a conversation between Trump and Comey where he says to Flynn -- he says to Comey, Flynn is a good guy. Flynn had just resigned the day before.
MADDOW: Just been fired, immediately, right.
SHUGERMAN: And on February 14th, he goes to Comey and he says, Flynn is a good guy. How about letting him go?
That is a more -- that`s a more direct intervention into a criminal investigation. That`s more than just saying can you lift a cloud. I don`t think you can base an obstruction case on a conversation about lifting a cloud.
But if it`s a part of a chain of events, including that key February 14th conversation about Flynn, that`s Trump getting into this investigation trying to obstruct the investigation of Flynn. And that`s also important because you remember this tweet that Trump wrote that John Dowd said, oh, I wrote that tweet.
SHUGERMAN: This is December 3rd of the past year. Maybe a reason John Dowd is no longer the president`s lawyer because John Dowd may have been -- he said, I wrote that tweet. The tweet said, I had to fire Flynn.
MADDOW: Because he lied to the FBI.
SHUGERMAN: Because he lied to the FBI. Now, that is not what Trump ever claimed before, but it is -- he said he lied to the vice president. That`s what was the claim.
It`s not a crime to lie to the vice president, but it is a crime to lie to the FBI. And then when the tweet says he lied to the FBI and that`s why I fired him, it means that Trump knew at least as evidence from this tweet.
SHUGERMAN: Now, so did Trump -- did Comey with his notes, he says and go back to his published testimony before the Senate. On the bottom of page 5 and the top of page 6, Comey says from that February 14th conversation where Trump said let Flynn go, he says I spoke to the deputy attorney general who was at that time the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
MADDOW: Dana Boente.
SHUGERMAN: Dana Boente.
SHUGERMAN: So we don`t -- I don`t know that we`ve seen these notes from Boente, but this -- what you`ve broken tonight suggests that Boente was keeping these notes all along the way. I would be very curious if Boente also has notes from that pivotal February 14th conversation, which in itself could be the basis of an obstruction case.
MADDOW: And what`s less important than the fact that we have these notes and have published them now is that we believe that he`s handed them to Robert Mueller.
MADDOW: Jed Shugerman, professor at Fordham University Law School -- it`s great to have you here. Thank you very much.
SHUGERMAN: Yes, thanks very much.
MADDOW: I appreciate it.
All right. Much more to come. Stay with us tonight.
MADDOW: I mentioned this a few minutes ago. Here is this new report from "The New York Times." Quote: The president sought to fire Robert Mueller in December. Quote, in early December, President Trump, furious over news reports about a new round of subpoenas from the office of special counsel, told advisers in no uncertain terms that Robert Mueller`s investigation had to be shut down.
Quote: The president`s anger was fueled by reports that the subpoenas were for obtaining information about his business dealings with Deutsche Bank. Quote, in the hours that followed, Mr. Trump`s initial anger over the Deutsche Bank reports, his lawyers and advisers worked quickly to learn about the subpoenas, and ultimately were told by Mueller`s office that the reports weren`t accurate, leading the president to back down.
This will be the second reported instance in which the president is said to have told top White House staffers that Robert Mueller had to go. "The Times" previously reported that Trump sought to fire Mueller in June last summer, but he backed down when his White House counsel refused to give the order.
I should also tell you tonight that CNN is reporting that the president is also actively currently considering firing Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. That`s according to multiple people familiar with the discussions. CNN reporting that Rosenstein`s firing is one of several options being considered by the president. Another includes firing the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. This is all in response to the FBI`s raid yesterday on the office of Trump`s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Quote: Officials say if Trump acts, Rosenstein is his most likely target. But it`s unclear whether even such a dramatic firing like that will be enough to satisfy the president.
Joining us now is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.
Congressman Schiff, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMTITEE: My pleasure.
MADDOW: A bunch of breaking news tonight. I first want to get your reaction to these reports tonight that the president is actively considering firing the deputy attorney general who oversees the Russia investigation, and that he took steps to try to fire Robert Mueller in December.
SCHIFF: Well, it looks certainly like part of a pattern if indeed the president fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation, and these notes by Dana Boente certainly corroborate James Comey, and Andrew McCabe`s also strongly corroborative James Comey. And you follow on with the following of either Rosenstein or Mueller for the reason of trying to obstruct an investigation that may lead to him, that looks like a part of a powerful pattern.
And you see these reports of discussions in the White House that they`re trying to concoct a justification for getting rid of Rod Rosenstein. Maybe they could pin it on his memo talking about how James Comey should not have been discussing the Clinton e-mail investigation. You really have to chase down a rabbit hole to even understand how that theory is supposed to work. They`re going to fire Rod Rosenstein because he did what the president asked and produced a memo, assuming that`s how the memo came about.
So, it does look like a growing body of evidence that the president is trying to obstruct an investigation that may lead to him.
MADDOW: These new notes that we have reported on tonight from Dana Boente, Dana Boente has been an unusually large number of different law enforcement positions that had an important relationship to the Russia investigation. He was the Eastern District of Virginia U.S. attorney when that office, prosecutors at that office were pursuing grand jury inquiries into both Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort.
As acting attorney general, he oversaw the Russia investigation. As acting deputy attorney general, after Jeff Sessions was recused, he also oversaw the entire investigation. As head of the National Security Division, he signed off on charges against Manafort.
And now as general counsel of the FBI, he is in an unusual position with the FBI facing these attacks from the president and Republicans who are hostile to this investigation. We`re reporting tonight that Boente has been summoned to give an interview as a witness to the Mueller investigation.
Does that strike you as important?
SCHIFF: It does, and for this reason -- as a prosecutor, before you embark on these interviews of people who corroborate James Comey, you have to ask one fundamental question. And that is, let`s assume everything James Comey said was true. Does that constitute evidence of obstruction of justice? Would that make a case of obstruction of justice?
And I agree that the suggestion or the dictate from the president that Comey dropped the Flynn case is the single most significant action that the president asked for. But if your answer is no, then you don`t do those interviews. But if your answer is, if we can accept or prove what Comey said was true, that would constitute obstruction of justice, then you do go through these interviews.
So, it is significant I think that not only Dana Boente, but Andy McCabe and others are likely being brought before the special counsel. I also think it`s significant, Rachel, that each of these witnesses that corroborate James Comey has been the subject of either firing or disciplinary action or attack by the president or his allies.
So, you look at Baker, who was the prior general counsel for Comey has been the subject of attack. Rybicki, the chief of staff has been the subject of attack. Comey has been fired and the subject of attack. Boente and McCabe was fired before his pension could vest at the urging of the president.
So, all of those witnesses who corroborate James Comey or are in a position to do so, have been in the situation of efforts to undermine them. And I don`t think that`s a coincidence.
MADDOW: Let me ask you specifically when it comes to Dana Boente. It remains a mystery to me, and it may be absolutely innocent. It may have nothing to do with this overall Russia scandal.
But it remains a strange story to me that Dana Boente was removed from the Justice Department. NBC and MSNBC`s reporting is that Boente, although he resigned was directed that he should resign both as head of the National Security Division and as head of the Eastern District of Virginia U.S. attorney`s office. Part of the reason we were able to report that out is because Dana Boente had told people just a few days before that supposed resignation that he was looking forward to getting back to the Eastern District of Virginia and running that U.S. attorney`s office full time.
That happened right around the time that Paul Manafort was indicted for the first time. We know that Boente signed off on those charges. Do you know anything as the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee about why Boente was fired? About who fired him? Or about whether it was related to this scandal?
SCHIFF: I don`t know the answer to that. And the only thing that occurs to me is if there were some issue with Dana Boente that could give the president or any of his people a cause to have an issue with him, you would think it would be unlikely that he would be brought in as general counsel for the FBI.
SCHIFF: So, I don`t know the reason why he was fired from those two positions or forced to resign from them. But given that he was taken on by Director Wray, who I`m sure is trying to dot every I and cross every T, it may be unlikely to happen if he was pushed out over his handling of the Manafort case.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee -- really appreciate your time here tonight, sir, on very a busy night. Thank you for being here.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. That does it for tonight. Thank you for being with us. We`ll see you tomorrow.
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
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