Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 11, 2018 Guest: Robert Costa
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you with us.
Where do you want to start tonight? The prospect that we`re about to shoot more missiles at Syria right after the president said he wanted us to have nothing to do with the war in Syria anymore? We could start there.
There`s also the fact that the president literally said today, get ready, Russia. That`s a quote. Get ready, Russia -- as he was apparently preparing his plans to shoot missiles into Syria where Russia is the major organized military power on the ground.
The president says, get ready Russia, as in here, they come you guys ready? Got everything moved out of the way. Do you need any more time? You good to go? This enough notice?
Get ready, Russia. So we can start there tonight.
We could start tonight with the x-rated report about alleged sexual abuse and violence by Missouri`s Republican governor that report just released tonight by the Missouri state legislature and that governor still believes there is no need for him to step down. We can start there.
We could start with yet more senior officials leaving the Trump administration or we could start with the previously fired senior White House official who`s now been brought back and installed on the president`s orders at the Justice Department. We could start there.
We could we could start with the next new scoop that we`ve got on the Mueller investigation following our report last night on Dana Boente and James Comey. There is a lot going on, my fine-feathered friends. I`m very glad that you`re here. There`s a lot to get through.
Oh, and also the speaker of the house, third in line to the presidency, resigned today or at least he announced that he is leaving. He will not be running for reelection.
Ho-hum, normal Wednesday. These are Wednesdays in our life now.
The Republican Party has held the House of Representatives since the beginning of 2011. They won the chamber in the 2010 midterms, the big tea party wave. That was one of the biggest partisan swings in the House in modern American history. The Republicans picked up 63 seats in that first midterm after President Obama was elected in the 2010 midterms.
And when you when you want a majority, even if it`s just a small majority, you, of course, get to take control of all the committees in the House. You don`t just get the leadership of the House writ large. All the committees that had previously been shared by Democrats, those Democratic chairs had to hand over their gavels to new Republican chairs. And when that sort of a transition happens, it is a feeding frenzy in Washington. It is power-play writ large. There`s lots of jockeying among members of Congress for the best jobs.
Often the chairmanships are won by senior members of the House. People who`ve been around for a long time and have made a lot of friends and doled out a lot of favors they have a lot of chips to cash in with their colleagues.
But when the Republicans took over the house with that big, big win in 2011, 2010 midterms, they`re all getting sworn in in 2011, the Republican member of Congress who managed to snag the best chairmanship of all, the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, the best gig in Congress. The person who would be responsible for crafting the Republicans economic alternative to President Obama`s proposals.
That guy was a pretty young guy, just 40 years old at the time, not one of these old lions of Congress who`d been you know raising money for all his or her colleagues for decades, is this 40-year-old guy who got that plum job not because he`d been around forever and had lots of favors to trade, but because he was seen as such a quality guy. He was seen as such an up- and-comer, and specifically he had a really detailed, really specific plan. He said that he had the plan for the Republican Party to finally get American debt and deficits under control, because he knew how to do it.
You put him in charge, he would do it. His reason for living was to cut the debt. It was what he dreamed about, it was what he lived for, it was his life`s work, it was all he cared about it was definitely one thing that he knew how to do better than anybody else, and he had dreamy blue eyes and he looked awesome alongside blown up charts and graphs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI, SPEKER OF THE HOUSE: The facts are very, very clear. The United States is heading toward a debt crisis. The only solutions will be truly painful for us all.
That doesn`t have to be our future. The way we respond to this challenge will ultimately define our generation. We can choose a path to prosperity. Let`s take a look at how we can do it.
Our debt as a share of the economy is already too high, but look at where it`s going. These are actually pretty conservative estimates.
Here`s what would happen under our proposed budget, what we`re calling the path to prosperity. As you can see, we won`t come anywhere close to the tipping point and we`ll pay off the debt over time.
REPORTER: The House Republicans` budget man called for dramatic cuts and changes.
RYAN: We put the nation on the path to actually pay off our national debt.
REPORTER: Forty-one-year-old Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan is going big. Compared to the White House budget laid out in February, the Republican plan over the next decade would cut government spending by $6 trillion, reduced the federal deficit by $4.4 trillion, compared to the president`s budget according to the Congressional Budget Office.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Budget chairman, Congressman Paul Ryan, champion of urgent deep cuts, a 40-year old congressional rebel with a cause. And Jon Karl spent the day with him.
REPORTER: He`s been given more power over the federal budget than anybody in Congress. Paul Ryan, the Republican with the budget ax.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty-three million.
REPORTER: He`s a little like the guy in the movie "Dave", the accidental president who sets out to fix the budget line-by-line.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s another 47 million, so this is good. We`re doing good.
REPORTER: But in the movie, Dave only has to find $650 million in savings. Ryan wants to cut several trillion over the next 10 years.
I mean, how do you go in here and how do you find the kind of savings you want to find? And how do you -- how do you --
RYAN: I`ve been raising these things since I was 22 years old. You literally go through it line by line, direct loans, this is perfect. So, direct loans, lesson on new spending on autopilot that has no congressional oversight and it gave the illusion that they were cutting spending.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s the Paul Ryan party trick that he does with reporters. U.S. budget to any page, I`ll find you wasteful spending to cut on any page. Oh look, look at this one. You know, you thought you`re burping the alphabet routine was good, right, for that thing you do at the chewing tobacco lid, no, no, no. Try opening the budget, boom, I`d kill that.
I mean, yes, there were party poopers out there who pointed out that in that example and that televised interview, that one random thing Paul Ryan happened to pull out of the budget at random as an example of wasteful spending, that thing it`s actually something that saved the U.S. government billions and billions and billions of dollars, so cutting it would cost billions of dollars.
But still, the idea that he had some sort of budget magic that he was budget magic personified, it was so exciting you just didn`t want to reveal how the trick was done or that it didn`t work. You just wanted to believe in the magic, the beltway really wanted to believe in the magic, however you felt about Paul Ryan`s actual grasp of actual numbers.
By the very next year that plan of his that he had unveiled was such orthodoxy for Republicans and he was seen as such a serious policy guy by the mainstream press that the following year, 2012, Republicans basically by consensus chose Paul Ryan as their vice presidential candidate to run with Mitt Romney because, yes, dreamy blue eyes and youthful fitness looks great alongside Mitt Romney, but also policy, right? He had that very, very serious plan. He was the policy guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In choosing Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has instantly remade his presidential campaign. Congressman Ryan, the energetic chairman of the House Budget Committee, is the Republican master of all aspects of federal spending and he comes complete with his own detailed conservative fiscal plan to remake the role of the federal government in everything from Medicare and Medicaid to tax policy and agriculture subsidies.
In naming Congressman Ryan, Governor Romney has transformed the presidential campaign into an ideological battle,.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ideological battle because Republicans have picked -- they called him the Republican master of all aspects of federal spending.
There`s a conservative activist named Grover Norquist who`s an anti-tax crusader. He said at the time that Republicans didn`t actually even need Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate, didn`t matter who was at the top of the ticket. All they needed was that magic plan from the Republican master of all aspects of federal spending, Paul Ryan.
Grover Norquist said at the time, quote, we want the Ryan budget. Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.
All we want is Paul Ryan`s magic plan.
Well, Paul Ryan did not become vice president in that campaign that he and Mitt Romney lost in 2012. But while Mitt Romney sort of disappeared for a while. it`s now trying to just make his political comeback now, Paul Ryan kept rolling and he ended up becoming speaker of the House in 2015. And again, the prevailing view was this meant that the Republican Party would now be led by Mr. Policy, by the most capable, most devoted policy wonk in all the land, the man whose reason for living was to reduce deficits and the debt and, boy, does he know how to do it.
Once he was speaker, Paul Ryan started releasing these odd but sort of exciting videos about himself as speaker at the time that they made people think that maybe he was running for president in 2016, or maybe he just liked having videos of himself out there with story music and the sound of people applauding him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: How reassuring it would be if we actually fix the tax code, with patients in charge of their health care, grow our economy, strengthen our military, lifted people out of poverty and pay down our debt. The cynics will scoff. They`ll say it`s not possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Scoffing cynics too don`t believe we will pay down our debt. Don`t you know that Paul Ryan has been working on this since he was 22? He has the plan. He`s going to bring down the debt. He`s going to do all those things, the debt will disappear.
This is -- this is who Paul Ryan is in American politics, and he`s an important figure in American politics. But this is the founding mythology of Paul Ryan over his 20 years in Congress. And at the beginning of last year, his party finally took control of the White House and the Senate and the House where he is charge, and he has a huge majority in the House, he can do what he wants.
And with that full control, they have enacted some of Paul Ryan`s policies that he has been campaigning for for 20 years. He`s finally seen his fiscal plans come into existence.
Two days ago, we got the mathematical fiscal assessment of the result of those policies the deficit is now going to shoot past a trillion dollars by 2020. As a share of the American economy, the deficit is going to reach levels not seen since the economic collapse of 2008. Before that, the last time deficits were this big was World War II, because we were paying for a world war at the time, the debt is going to rise $13 trillion in the next ten years.
That report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, that came out two days ago. Then this was this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Today, I am announcing that this year will be my last one as a member of the House. To be clear I am not resigning. I intend to full my serve term as I was elected to do, but I will be retiring in January, leaving this majority in good hands with it what I believe is a very bright future.
I have accomplished much of what I came here to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Which part?
You may or may not care about the debt and deficit. Some people care a lot about it, some people don`t care about it at all. But getting rid of the debt and the deficit, that is the origin story of why Paul Ryan exists in American politics, and why he`s third in line to the presidency. After the president and the vice president, it`s him. It`s why he was put in charge of the budget for the Republicans and why they ran him for vice-president with Mitt Romney and why they made him speaker of the House. He will get rid of the debt.
And then what he did with the power that they gave him once he got to enact his magic plan is that he`s going to add $13 trillion to the debt, and Paul Ryan apparently looked at that report that came out on Monday afternoon and thought, well, my work here is done. I`ve pretty much done what I`ve.
I mean, again, you may or may not care about that as a policy issue, but the -- I think it`s -- this is a -- if we`re never going to look at this if we`re ever going to look at this, this is the time, the beltway myth of Paul Ryan which we have all been living through over the course of his political ascendance these past few years, the beltway myth of Paul Ryan is the opposite of what Paul Ryan did, which should make us examine our myths.
Whatever you think of Congressman Ryan, Speaker Ryan, whether you bought into the myth in the first place or not, it is inescapably true that he did the opposite. He failed at achieving the goals that he set for himself from day one and that everybody cheered him on as being capable of achieving as a Republican Party leader. He did the opposite and now, he`s leaving, saying he`s pretty much done with what he wanted to do.
He will be the second Republican house speaker to quit in the space of three years. His predecessor, John Boehner, stepped down in October 2015. John Boehner supposed Congress life has seemed kind of awesome actually. From what we know about it, it has mostly been him golfing and giving occasional interviews about how relieved he is to not be in terrible Congress anymore, he has occasionally sent out dispatches from his R.V. on the open road. He wears shorts when he drives. It`s been kind of a low- profile retirement for the last Republican speaker of the house who quit.
But today turned out to be a really awkward day for everybody in the Beltway media to suddenly turn around and say, hey, I wonder what John Boehner is up to right now. We`re having another House speaker quit, what happened to the last one? Today ended up being a very awkward day for everybody to suddenly start wondering about John Boehner again because early this morning hours before anybody knew that Paul Ryan was going to announce that he too was leaving, John Boehner announced very early on Twitter today that he was joining the board of a weed company, like a marijuana company. John Boehner, former Republican speaker the house, chose this morning to come out of the closet as a brand-new proponent of legal pot.
Quote: I am joining the board of acreage holdings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved.
OK. I mean, we all know John Boehner as a proud cigarettes and red wine guy. This is new. When John Boehner shared his evolution, his marijuana evolution in that tweet before 7:00 a.m. this morning, I`m sure he didn`t think it was going to be part of every single story about the biggest news in American politics today. But there you have it something for Paul Ryan to look forward to now that he`s retiring to spend more time probably becoming a lobbyist. I mean, I would pay money to see them high together. At some point, that will probably happen.
But it is -- it is no mystery why Paul Ryan might have wanting -- what might be wanted to get out of the way of the November elections this year. That tea party wave in 2010, in the first election after Obama was elected president, that was the wave election that made Paul Ryan budget chair. That was very big.
Some of the people who watch these kind of trends for a living, they think this year could bring a Democratic wave that is even bigger than what we saw in 2010. Even if you don`t believe that hype and it is still a long way out before the election, it`s already clear that it`s going to be at least a sort of rough year for Republicans. An election after election over the last few months from state legislative seats to governorships even to the U.S. Senate, Democrats have been doing way better than they did in 2016, or in some cases better than they done in many election cycles going back many years.
Democrats have won upset victories in traditionally conservative places, hello, Alabama. There have been a number of instances where Democrats have still lost in very conservative places, but the percentage swing toward Democrats in those elections has nevertheless been huge. Just yesterday, we kind of had a couple of specials, a Democrat won a Florida Senate race, state Senate race. She won her race by a 50-point margin, and yes, that`s a Democratic district in Florida, so maybe not surprising that a Democrat won. But Hillary Clinton crushed that district in 2016, Hillary Clinton won that district by points this is a point swing further toward the Democrats in that race yesterday, a 50-point margin.
Also yesterday, there was another special in Iowa. In Iowa, a Republican won a state Senate seat in a very red district, but that Republican won by 14 fewer points than Trump had won that district in 2016. So, it`s a 14- point swing and Democrats direction even in just -- even in a race they could still hold on to.
These kind of swings are real and we have been seeing them for well over a year now and if they persist even at a fraction of what we`re seeing now, they will make it very hard for Republicans this November, not to mention the fact that every Republican America will be running with Donald Trump as their party standard bearer, maybe Paul Ryan could have been the standard bearer before he quit but it`s going to be Donald Trump and that will doubtless help some Republicans in some places that really love Donald Trump.
At the rate things are going right now though, it is hard to imagine what amount and what manner of scandal and legal peril may be hanging over Trump and his administration by the time voters are actually going to the polls and voting in November. We just learned today that as of last week, the Russia Legal Defense Fund for the Trump campaign staffers and Trump administration staffers is open for business and taking donations. So maybe that could be kind of a joint election message, maybe that could be like, hey, vote for me or if you don`t have time to go out and vote, please could you contribute to the Russia legal defense?
Happy election season, GOP. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: So, we had booked Bob Costa, national political reporter at "The Washington Post" tonight as soon as we learn that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was resigning. Bob Costa is one of the best sourced reporters in Washington particularly on Capitol Hill and among House Republicans, and he`s often been able to read tea leaves better than anybody else when there are sort of leadership changes happening in big political schisms afoot among Republicans in Washington.
So, we booked Robert Costa to talk about that because of the Paul Ryan story, and then right before we got on the air, look at what Robert Costa just broke at "The Washington Post". Do we have this to put it up there yeah this has just gone up at the Washington Post website a new scoop from Mr. Costa. Quote: Bannon pitches White House on plan to cripple Mueller, to cripple Mueller probe and protect Trump.
This has just been posted by Robert Costa at "The Washington Post". According to this new report, he says that Steve Bannon now stood as White House chief strategist last summer, but he`s remained in touch with some members of President Trump circle. He`s now pitching a new plan to the West Wing, to West Wing aides and congressional allies to cripple the federal probe into Russian interference in the elections.
According to Mr. Costa`s reporting tonight, Bannon`s first proposed step is to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who oversees the Mueller investigation. Second step is that the White House should cease its cooperation with Mueller, reversing the policy of Trumps legal team to allow staff members to sit for interviews.
This is -- this is unusual. I guess this would be step three or maybe this is part of step two. Bannon is telling people that the president should assert executive privilege in such a way that he should argue that Mueller`s interviews with White House officials over the past year, the ones that have already happened should now be seen as null and void executive privilege should be quote exerted immediately and retroactively. That`s Bannon`s plan.
Also, one final step, Ty Cobb the president`s rush a lawyer who actually works for the White House, Ty Cobb, quote, should be fired immediately, Bannon said.
So, those are the steps. Fire Rosenstein, retroactively assert executive privilege and try to nullify all of the interviews that already exist and fire Ty Cobb too -- new reporting from Robert Costa, national political reporter at "The Washington Post". He`s also the moderator of "Washington Week".
Mr. Costa, congratulations on the scoop. Thank you for being here.
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, let me ask you first about what you just posted at "The Washington Post". Is there any sense that Bannon is pitching this through you because he believes that`s his best hope of getting this acted on, or is it your sense that this is a plan that is actively being considered?
COSTA: As a reporter, I actually came to Bannon. I`d been hearing from White House sources that he was back in the mix and he had seemed to be over in Europe preaching his brand of politics for the last few months after his political operation here pretty much fizzled, and he has been talking to people that the president needs to fire Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and he`s been meeting just this week on Tuesday night with White House officials, different White House aides privately, having phone conversations conference calls, that sort of thing.
MADDOW: You say in your piece, legal experts are dubious about Bannon`s idea that the White House could suddenly claim executive privilege on interviews that were given voluntarily by officials and be able to exclude them from an investigation. Is there -- were you able to sense from Mr. Bannon or from anybody else familiar with his plans why he believes that this is even a viable prospect for him to suggest?
COSTA: It`s really a political play as much as a legal strategy he`s recommending and it`s important to note Mr. Bannon is not an attorney. But what you`re seeing from Bannon is someone who`s trying to play to the president`s frustration with his legal team, the legal team Ty Cobb and John Dowd before he resigned we`re urging cooperation.
Bannon thinks that`s the biggest mistake the president has made. He should never have cooperated with the Mueller probe, and he`s urging people inside of the White House and close to the president to mount a more aggressive campaign and reshuffle the legal team and just stop cooperating after you`ve reshuffle the Justice Department.
MADDOW: Isn`t it strange though that Bannon of all people -- I mean, Mr. Bannon, one of the ways he made headlines was by describing Trump`s earlier decision to fire James Comey as -- I can`t remember the exact phrase, but there`s something about it being one of the worst political decisions in modern history, describing the firing of Comey as a terrible decision that might have doomed Trump`s presidency.
Now, he`s suggesting essentially the equivalent firing Rosenstein, in order to try to eliminate the special counsel`s investigation. That would seem to be quite an evolution just by Mr. Bannon himself.
COSTA: It`s a total reversal for Bannon. He was the one who criticized Jared Kushner and others for firing FBI Director James Comey last year. Now, he`s the one urging political warfare.
But that`s where we`re at with this presidency, a president who has a very limited legal team and now, it`s outside advisors working their way through, even though Bannon burned his whole relationship with the White House with that "Fire and Fury" book, even Bannon is coming back, whispering to people inside of the West Wing about what to do next.
MADDOW: Robert, let me also ask you about the huge news in Washington today that we all woke up to, that Speaker Ryan is leaving. He`s not going to be running for re-election.
Obviously, there had been previous reporting that had hinted at this, the speaker`s office had denied it. People have been saying that his retirement was coming.
Do you have any sense of how tied this announcement was, this decision was to Speaker Ryan`s expectations for Democrats having a good midterm election and potentially taking back the House this November?
COSTA: Well, Rachel you explained it so well. I mean, when you were in your winning losing seats in southwestern Pennsylvania and in Alabama, that pretty much tells you long with polls and what to expect on the horizon. But the deeper question facing House Republicans I spoke to today is what - - who`s going to be their champion? On the tax cut, Ryan was the person who was going to sell it. The president hasn`t been out there repeatedly selling the tax cut.
And without their leader and Ryan, who`s really there to bring together that traditional Republican Party? But the Republican Party is so broken. There`s that surface Republican Party the speaker was talking about today, harkening back to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. But those deficits you talked about those deficit with a motivating factor supposedly for the Tea Party movement.
But a decade later what really lingers on, not concerned about the deficit in the Republican Party. Its grievance politics, fury with the establishment.
MADDOW: Robert Costa, national political reporter at "The Washington Post", moderator of "Washington Week" and as usual proving himself to be a scoop machine. Bob, it`s nice to see you. Thank you very much for being here. Much appreciated.
COSTA: Thank you.
MADDOW: I will say, in terms of who`s going to replace Paul Ryan, a lot of discussion about that in Washington, when John Boehner stepped down, as the last Republican House speaker to step down, everybody thought that the guy who would step into those shoes was be Kevin McCarthy, the congressman from California. It once again looks like that in the wake of Paul Ryan leaving but something happened when Boehner left and the Republicans decided they weren`t going to go with McCarthy, they skipped him and put Ryan in there instead.
McCarthy`s again set to be there, set to be the next in line. It will -- nobody`s really told the story of how come McCarthy didn`t get it last time around when Boehner stepped down. We`ll see if that plays itself again for a second time now that he`s got a second chance at it.
All right. Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. So, last night we broke a little bit of news about the Russia investigation the Justice Department the FBI specifically we obtained some new documents that allowed us to break two new pieces of news. First is that we got some handwritten notes from a law enforcement official named Dana Boente, and those handwritten notes appear to corroborate even down to some of the exact phrases what FBI Director James Comey told Congress about his interactions with President Trump before the president fired Comey last May.
Comey told Congress for example that President Trump had asked him to, quote, lift the cloud of the Russia investigation. Boente`s notes that we obtained appear to show Comey describing that to Boente in exactly the same way, when he phoned Boente right after he`d spoken to the president in order to make sure there would be a record of what the president had said and done.
So, that`s one example. Comey telling Congress the president said he wanted to lift the cloud and then him telling Boente the same thing that the president said he wanted to lift the cloud. Comey also told Congress that the president had said to him that this Russia business was interfering in his ability to run the country as president. These notes we obtained appear to show that Comey told Dana Boente the exact same thing.
Comey also told Congress that the president had asked him to make a public statement that the president wasn`t personally being investigated by the FBI. Comey appears to have recounted that same presidential request the same way to Dana Boente. Comey also told Congress that that he -- that James Comey had asked the attorney general to make sure the president never again spoke to him alone one-on-one about matters like this. Comey conveyed the same description of that same conversation to Dan Boente.
And from these notes we got, it appears he used almost the exact same word- for-word language.
So, the reason all of that matters, the reason those matching phrases, those matching descriptions of those conversations, the reason that`s important is because the president is potentially in legal jeopardy for firing James Comey if that firing was an effort by the president to obstruct justice. Now, how do prosecutors determine if an action like that was an effort to obstruct justice? They look at why it was done.
And so, all these pre-firing conversations and interactions between James Comey and the president, they may end up being part of any legal case against the president, if those interactions show what the president thought of Comey, what he wanted from Comey, what might have motivated him to fire James Comey. That`s why Comey testified about those interactions with the president in detail under oath to Congress last year. Honestly, that`s also why there`s so much anticipation about Comey`s book coming out next week.
What happened between Comey and the president before the president fired him is really important to the question of whether the president might be criminally charged or otherwise liable for obstruction of justice in this instance.
And the president, of course, disputes Comey`s account of those interactions. He has repeatedly denounced James Comey as a liar. He has directly denied Comey`s descriptions of his interactions with the president.
Comey`s defense against that is that -- well, there might not have been tape recordings of his the interactions with the president but he has basically the next best thing he said that he has copious notes taken at the time by himself but also by other senior law enforcement officials who Comey briefed at the time immediately following these interactions he had with the president. Multiple senior law enforcement officials who incidentally are trained to take detailed notes for just this kind of reason for evidence.
So, these handwritten notes from Dana Boente which we obtained, these are the first time that we the public have ever seen any of those contemporaneous notes, and they do appear to backup Comey`s version of what happened between him and the president, sometimes word for word.
So, that was the first big piece of news we were able to break. The other big piece of news was that we also obtained this letter in which Dana Boente explains to the Justice Department that he`s been asked to sit for an interview with Mueller`s prosecutors. And Dana Boente of course is not just any other witness for this investigation. As U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, Dana Boente personally signed off on subpoenas and otherwise led the initial grand jury investigations into Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn and Trump`s campaign chair Paul Manafort.
When Dana Boente was acting attorney general and acting deputy attorney general, he actually served stints overseeing the whole Russia investigation all of it. When he was acting chief of the national security division at the Justice Department, Boente personally approved some of the most serious criminal charges that were brought against Manafort.
Mueller asking Dana Boente to come in as a witness is not just a run-of- the-mill turn in the investigation. He is not a normal witness. But we were able to report last night that Boente has been asked by Mueller to come in and do an interview.
Well, then today, Matt Zapotosky at "The Washington Post" was able to push this further, because Zapotosky today confirmed that not only has Mueller asked Dana Boente to testify, the interview has in fact taken place. Zapotosky was also able to separately confirm the authenticity of these handwritten notes we reported on. According to "The Washington Post" they are Dana Boente`s handwritten notes, and he was able to confirm that these handwritten notes from Dana Boente have been handed over to the Mueller investigation.
Now, I mentioned last night that in addition to those couple of pieces of news we were able to get to last night, we might have more to report in coming days. Well, hello, it`s coming days and here`s something new that we can report tonight, and this will -- I think we can actually put right up there on the whole screen, the whole thing.
Can we put it up? Could we have it there? Yes, there you go. And we`ve only done a couple of little reductions here we`ve redacted mostly basically just email addresses from people here because we don`t need to be publicizing their email addresses.
Quote, from Scott Schools. Scott Schools is the top career official at the Justice Department. Date: Friday morning, May 26th, 2017. And then the two field there you see it`s to a long and interesting list of people at the Department of Justice. You can stick a pin in that list. We`ll come back to that distribution list in just a second.
The subject line here says preservation notice. And then the letter from Scott Schools to his colleagues at the DOJ, it says this, "all", as in dear all. We have received requests that we identify and preserve any documents related to the removal of former FBI Director Comey and any documents related to the investigation of Russian activities to interfere with the election.
The documents and responsive materials covered by the request include but are not limited to, I love this, both in draft and final form, all emails, voicemails, documents, photos, text messages, instant messages, electronic, handwritten and/or hard copy records, databases, telephone records, correspondence, transcripts, audio recordings, analyses, briefings assessments, banner entries, user agreements, audit records, metadata, storage devices, notes, memoranda, diary and calorie entries -- excuse me calorie entries -- calendar entries, visitor logs, meeting attendance records, meeting room reservations, meeting agendas, badge records, records of entry or exit to any building room or security facility, safe access records, video surveillance of public and non-public areas and access logs including of classified information.
Also, smoke signals if you have any of those, any removed tattoos you`d like to submit for laser analysis, x-rays from the time you broke your thumb at the company softball game. Also, your children`s report cards dating back to birth, and their sonograms. I`m serious, right? They`re going to need it all, preservation notice.
It ends by saying, quote, to the extent any of you or your staffs have relevant documents, please identify and preserve them, so we can then evaluate whether and how to provide them to the requesters. Now, the requesters we can surmise are probably the special counsel`s office, Robert Mueller and his prosecutors, because the date on this thing, May 26, that`s nine days after Mueller was named a special counsel.
This means less than a week and a half after taking over the Russia investigation, Mueller and his team demanded all of this stuff from all of these people at the Justice Department.
Now, go back to the distribution list, Jody Hunt is on the distribution list, at the time chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sarah Isgur Flores, the main spokesperson for the Justice Department both then and now.
Sam Ramer, at the time, he was head of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the Justice Department, which many was in charge of managing the relationship between the Justice Department and Congress. Mr. Ramer has since gone on I believe to work in the White House counsel`s office.
James Rybicki who had been chief of staff at the FBI under Comey, he was another one of the people Comey reportedly briefed on his interactions with the president. Rybicki ended up leaving the bureau earlier this year, sort of pushed out apparently in January.
James Crowell, we believe is somebody who was working in the deputy attorney general`s office, in the Rod Rosenstein office at the time that this was sent.
And, of course, also on the list, Dana Boente, whose copy of the memo this appears to be. Boente apparently was included on this list both in his capacity as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and in his capacity running the National Security Division of Justice Department at the time. And I think actually this is Dana Boente`s marginalia there, saying something about him bringing his notes on this matter into Scott Schools even before this memo went out.
So, this document is never previously been reported. Part of what is important here is that all of this stuff that all of these top people the Justice Department are now supposed to find and preserve and hand over in a Mueller, all of this stuff has to do not just with the Russia investigation, which has already been underway, but they`re being directed here that they`re also supposed to turn over all this stuff about what was then a brand-spanking-new investigation into the president firing FBI Director James Comey.
This memo went out on May 26th. Comey was only fired a couple weeks before that. So, this memo goes out May 26th to all these people at Justice, telling them to hand over all this stuff about Russia and about the firing of Comey. This is nine days after Mueller was named special counsel and again this is -- this is new. This is previously unreported.
This shows the scale of the request for documents and communications, even within the Justice Department for people who may have ended up being witnesses to a potential crime that took place within the administration, when the president fired his FBI director for reasons that remain in dispute and under criminal investigation. It just gives you a sense of the massive amount of stuff that Mueller and his team are hunting through in this investigation. Not incidentally, this previously unreported retention notice that we have just broken here tonight, this also shows you the massive amount of stuff that has been collected by that investigation that will need to be preserved and protected somehow as evidence, if in fact the president ends up coming for the special counsel`s office.
MADDOW: If you think it seems weird that the president of the United States would address an adversarial country on Twitter warning, get ready, the missiles are coming, you are not alone after the president actually did say that online today even people inside the White House and in allied governments who might work with the U.S. on a Syrian military strategy were reportedly confused, citing multiple American and Western officials, CNN reported this afternoon that that tweet from the president, quote, caught most of Trump`s aides off-guard. It also came before an agreement had been reached between key U.S. allies about what to do in Syria.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis saying, quote, we are still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies, we`re still working on this. But nevertheless, the president, apparently all on his own, decided this morning to warn Russia to, quote, get ready because military strikes are coming in Syria.
Russia is Bashar al-Assad`s biggest ally. The president publicly warning Russia to get ready ahead of this military action.
There is some evidence that Russia is getting ready. "The New York Times" cites military analysts tonight reporting, quote, with American strike intentions so clearly forecast by Mr. Trump, the Syrian government has moved key aircraft to a Russian base in Syria and it`s taking pains to secure important weapon systems.
There are also reports tonight that Russia may have moved battleships out of the Syrian port city of Tartus.
Quote: Get ready, Russia.
Thanks for the warning.
Joining us now is Courtney Kube, NBC News national security and military reporter. Courtney, it`s great to see you. Thank you for your time tonight.
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SCURITY AND MILITARY REPORTER: Thank you.
MADDOW: So, it has been almost exactly one year since the last U.S. missile strike against Syria ordered by the president. Are you expecting in terms of your reporting tonight that they`re going to do something similar to that again?
KUBE: I think we will see something broader. So, I should start by saying the decision hasn`t been made yet. We`re told that there is a decision- making meeting that hasn`t quite happened at the White House yet.
But there are options that are on the table for President Trump and they include two that are -- what I would call broader than what we saw last April. That was really more of a pinprick strike. It was something that was more to send a message to Bashar Assad that the U.S. knew where the chemical weapons strike came from and was trying to stop them from doing it again.
Well, if, in fact, this strike that happened last weekend was by the Syrian regime which it seems it was -- all indications are that it was. Then, the death strike last April did not stop it. So, it looks like this will be broader. The question is, just how far will it go? Will it actually target Iranian or Russian military that are there in the country?
That seems a little unlikely it seems more likely that it would be multiple targets that the U.S. will strike. But as you mentioned, you know, President, Trump he`s really boxed himself into a corner here with this tweet today, by saying that missiles are coming, smart missiles are coming. So, there has to be some sort of a response now, Rachel.
MADDOW: And some sort of response that includes that kind of -- that kind of weaponry. I mean, if he`s -- if he wants the tweet to be seen as an actual warning.
Courtney, looking back at that strike a year ago and the way you`re describing it, does the does the Pentagon -- does the White House view what they did a year ago as effective? Do they -- do they -- I know they look back at it and see as a polling success domestically for the president, but what if they think their own lesson was from that action last year?
KUBE: So, operationally on the ground, it really had no practical impact. It damaged some aircraft, but it pocked up the runway, and several days later, there were aircraft already taking off from that same -- that was a base called Shayrat Airfield in Syria. So, I -- while it didn`t actually stop, it seems Bashar al Assad from using what may be another nerve agent, what people forget is that from last April until today, there have been potentially dozens there are reports of the Assad regime using chlorine gas, weaponized chlorine gas against his own people numerous times since then and now.
So, it certainly has not stopped that. What it did though was send a message it stopped any kind of follow-on attacks in the immediate aftermath of the strike last April, and it didn`t draw the United States deeper into this larger civil war. That was something that was that there was a lot of concern about at the time, that this was something that was meant to send a message -- it did, but it just didn`t deter.
I think what now U.S. military planners are talking about is something that goes a step further that might actually hopefully deter Bashar al Assad from continuing to attack his people with these chemical agents.
Another thing that people forget though is, you know, while it may seem -- it may actually stop him from doing anything with chemicals, he`s continuing to attack his people with barrel bombs. He`s continuing to blow up civilians and kill them every single day and there that is nothing no indication that any of that is going to stop anytime soon, Rachel.
MADDOW: Right. And then the president`s response to that continuation of the war has been recently to say that he wants to get out of Syria and he wants the United States to be disentangled even further than we have been.
Courtney Kube, NBC News national security and military reporter, thanks for giving us the latest, Courtney. It`s nice to see you.
KUBE: Thanks, Rachel. You too.
MADDOW: Again underscoring what Courtney said at the top there, that the decision hasn`t actually been made. We`re all anticipating that the White House will likely do something if in part just because of the making good in the president`s public statements. But according to Courtney tonight a decision meeting needs to happen in the White House in that meeting has not happened yet.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: One thing to give you a heads up about for tomorrow morning. The confirmation hearing is going to happen tomorrow morning for Mike Pompeo, President Trump`s controversial CIA chief who he has tapped to take over for his controversial Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who he fired. The Pompeo confirmation hearing should actually be -- maybe -- I`m not going to say fireworks. I`m going to say it might be slightly heated. You may want to put that on your docket tomorrow morning.
We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
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