Comey`s book is out. TRANSCRIPT: 04/12/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Jeff Horwitz

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 12, 2018 Guest: Jeff Horwitz

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

On any given day of chaos in this administration, on any given day of, this has never happened before and we never planned for what happens after this point, because we always thought if we hit this point, it would be the end. I mean, on any given day of unprecedented insult and chaos and bewildering error and offense and confusion, which is now a typical weekday in our political lives as Americans during this administration, it used to be that we had to decide, if this was one of these days in the Trump administration that`s insane, because of personal failure, or is this one of the days that`s insane in the Trump administration because of scandal.

I used to think -- I mean, it was part of the way that I approached my job on a daily basis. I used to think that we had to decide on any given disastrous day if today`s disaster was due to, you know, ethics troubles and personnel problems stemming from who they tried to put in or who they tried to kick out of this administration. Or on the other hand, was today a disaster because of the one big existential scandal that looms over all others, because of the Russia scandal and the investigation of that scandal and the freak-out about that investigation.

Which kind of disastrous day is today? That`s sort of been the way I start my day most days at work. I think we have now reached a point where it`s fair to say that the answer to that question I`ve been asking myself at the start of every news day, the answer to, is it a personal disaster day or a scandal disaster day, I think the answer is now, yes.

Every day, it`s all of those things, all at once now. Failure, scandal, chaos, it`s all coming together, people. I don`t think that`s good, but I do think that we are in sort of a news phase when there`s no point in distinguishing between those two different types of things going seriously wrong in our government. We have a bunch of things to get to tonight. It looks like the president may not be able to confirm his nominee to be secretary of state, which means he may have kicked mike Pompeo out as director of the CIA with no new job for him, because the Senate looks like they may not be confirming him as secretary of state after his confirmation hearings today.

Also, as you know, the Republican speaker of the house unexpectedly quit yesterday. That has now led today to Republicans saying their party may not even try to hold on to the House this fall. They may just try to focus on trying to keep the Senate. They may give up on the other house of Congress.

The president`s nominee for veterans affairs, remember him? He looks like he may also not be able to be confirmed, with multiple Republican senators coming out now and saying they do not believe he has relevant experience for the job. You only need a couple of Republicans to say no and he will not get the job. More than a couple of Republicans are now saying he is not qualified for the job.

Also, the head of the EPA today facing yet another king tied of scandal with one of Trump`s own political appointees in Scott Pruitt`s agency, blowing about 40 more whistles on Scott Pruitt on ethics and on spending and on Pruitt lying in his public remarks. So, Pruitt has been hanging by a thread for a long time and that thread got even more gossamer today.

The new national security adviser had his fourth day on the job today. So far, in his four days on the job, he has wiped out the upper echelons of the National Security Council and he has not replaced them.

And that dynamic now stretches into a fourth day comes as White House staffers spent a second day today, frankly, freaking reporters out by telling reporters that nobody had any idea in the White House that the president was going to start publicly announcing missile strikes yesterday, that when the president made that announcement yesterday online, no such strikes were ready, no such strikes had been ordered or even agreed upon.

When the president nevertheless made this public statement, where he said, the missiles are coming, serving current White House staffers literally using the word "alarming" to describe the president`s erratic behavior and statements specifically about the use of military force. In other words, it`s a normal Thursday.

And what is happening on top of all of that news, what you can think of as the spoon that is stirring today`s particular pot of crazy is really two big pieces of news. The first one is from NBC News. NBC has four reporters on this byline, all women, incidentally, just so you know, Carol Lee, Julia Ainsley, Kristin Welker and Halle Jackson.

And you can see their headline, the first part of this important NBC scoop tonight. The headline there is about the fact that the president is no longer expected to sit for an interview with the prosecutors who are working for special counsel Robert Mueller. Now, that`s the first part of their scoop. That gets the headline.

What that news leads to, though, I think is probably an even bigger deal, because Robert Mueller`s team is apparently no longer expecting an interview with the president, that is speeding up what they are doing.

Quote, Mueller`s team had been aiming to finalize a report in the coming months on its findings on whether the president has tried to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation. Their initial timeline had been as early as May or as late as July for that obstruction report. That timeline hinged in part on reaching a decision on a presidential interview. Now, according to two sources, Mueller`s team may be able to close the obstruction probe more quickly since they will not need to prepare for the interview or follow up on what the president says.

Now, when they say "they may be able to close the obstruction part of their inquiry," that is not good news for the president or for the White House. Back to the piece, quote, three sources familiar with the investigation said the findings Mueller has collected on Trump`s attempt to obstruct justice include his intent to fire former FBI Director James Comey, his role in the crafting of a misleading public statement on the nature of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son and Russians, Trump`s dangling of pardons before grand jury witnesses who might testify against him, and Trump pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

Those are the four areas of findings that Mueller is said to have collected. Quote, Mueller would then likely send a confidential report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who`s overseeing the Russia investigation. Rosenstein could then decide whether to make the report public and send its findings to Congress. From there, Congress would then decide whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president.

OK. So, we previously had had reports that Mueller was planning on making some kind of report about his findings on the president and on criminal obstruction of justice. Well, now what NBC news is reporting tonight is that Mueller has arrived at least four findings on the president and obstruction -- the president`s intent to fire former FBI director James Comey, the president`s role in crafting a misleading public statement on the nature of the Trump Tower meeting during the campaign. The president dangling pardons before grand jury witnesses, who might testify against him, and the president pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his recusal from the Russia investigation.

Those are four findings related to the president and obstruction of justice that Mueller and his team have reportedly arrived at. That is not good for the president. And NBC News is further reporting tonight that we should expect this report from Mueller soon.

Again, you saw the headline. The overall gist of their reporting tonight is that the FBI raid on the offices of Trump`s longtime lawyer and Trump Organization executive, Michael Cohen, a few days ago, that raid has so upset the president that it`s now eliminated or at least greatly reduced the likelihood that the president will sit for an interview with Mueller. That, in turn, moves up the time frame for Mueller releasing these findings on the president and obstruction of justice.

Again, the old timeline, when they still thought they would do a presidential interview, had been that this report could be as early as May, as early as next month, possibly as late as July. But now, if the interview is off the table, they`ll be able to release this more quickly. So, that is very significant news, broken tonight by NBC News. Carol Lee, the lead reporter on that story.

Now, obviously, if this reporting is correct, the next questions that come up immediately are, when is this report coming? Are these the four findings or will there be more? Also, does learning that this is his level of risk change the president`s decision about whether or not he is going to talk to Mueller? And lastly, is it, in fact, a settled matter that if these obstruction findings are this serious against the president, is it a settled matter that Mueller definitely wouldn`t try to bring them forward as an indictment?

I mean, we`ve been having this discussion over the course of the past year since it started to become clear what the president might be up against with this investigation. There is legitimate legal ambiguity as to whether a sitting president can be indicted. If the special counsel has arrived at conclusions that implicate the president in obstruction of justice on at least these four grounds, how will it be decided? Who will decide whether these findings from Mueller will be brought forward in the form of criminal charges versus in the form of a report that goes to Congress for potential impeachment proceedings?

Would Mueller and his team make their own determination on that? Have they already made their own determination on that?

If NBC News is right in this new report this evening and Robert Mueller is planning on reporting these findings to Rod Rosenstein at the Justice Department, would it then be Rosenstein`s decision whether or not to actually put forward these findings on the president and obstruction in the form of a criminal indictment?

So, like I said, normal Thursday. And then there`s the matter of scoop number two, which is not just this. The fact is, the scoop is actually kind of the fact that I have this.

This is the new not-yet-released book from fired FBI director, James Comey. And it`s weird that I have this, because the publisher had taken fairly heroic measures to ensure that this book did not leak out before publication on Tuesday, next Tuesday. A Tuesday we have not yet reached.

Somewhere along the way, though, those heroic measures lost their cape and fell out of the sky. The first description of the book`s contents appeared in "The Daily Beast" today. The second set went online on the "Associated Press`s" Twitter feed soon thereafter. Then, Phillip Rucker at "The Washington Post" reported that "The Washington Post" had obtained a copy ahead of publication and he published a very good speed reading write-up of what is in the book. Then, "The New York Times" went ahead and published their review of the book, calling it absorbing.

Michiko Kakutani titling her review, quote: James Comey has a story to tell. It`s very persuasive.

And now I`ve got a copy. Because NBC news was able to go hunting in the urban jungle of New York City and they tranquilizer darted a copy of it in the wild and gave it to me. And so, ahem.

Director Clapper presented the intelligence community assessment, just as he had to President Obama and the Gang of Eight. There were a few questions and comments, most of which came from Tom Bossert in the back row. Tom Bossert fired this week.

During the discussion of Russia`s involvement in the election, I recall Trump listening without interrupting and asking only one question, which was really more of a statement. Quote, but you found there was no impact on the result, right?

Director Clapper replied that we had done no such analysis, which was not our business or expertise. What we could say is that we found no evidence of alteration of the vote count.

What I found telling was what Trump and his team didn`t ask. They were about to lead a country that had been attacked by a foreign adversary, yet they had no questions about what the future Russian threat might be, nor did they ask how the United States might prepare itself to meet the threat.

Instead, with the four of us still in our seats, including two outgoing Obama appointees, the president-elect and his team shifted immediately into a strategy session about messaging on Russia, about how they could spin what we`d just told them. Speaking as if we weren`t there, Reince Priebus began describing what a press statement about this meeting might look like.

The Trump team, led by Priebus, with Mike Pence, Sean Spicer, and Donald Trump jumping in, debated how to position these findings for maximum political advantage. They were keen to emphasize that there was no impact on the vote, meaning that the Russians hadn`t elected Trump.

Clapper interjected to remind them of what he had said about sixty seconds earlier. The intelligence community didn`t analyze American politics and we had not offered a view on that.

I had been in many intelligence briefings with the previous two presidents and had never seen Presidents Bush or Obama discuss communications and political strategy in front of intelligence community leaders. There had always been a line.

The intelligence community does facts. The White House does politics and spin and does it on its own. The searing lesson of the Iraq War based on bad intelligence of weapons of mass destruction was never mix the two. I tried to tell myself that maybe this was because Trump and his team had little experience on these matters.

Trump, of course, had no experience in government whatsoever. But in an instant, the line between intelligence and politics began to fade. As I was sitting there, the strangest image filled my mind. I kept pushing it away, because it seemed too odd and too dramatic, but it kept coming back.

I thought of New York mafia social clubs, an image from my days as a Manhattan federal prosecutors in the `80s and `90s, the Ravenite, the Palma Boys, Cafe Giardino. I couldn`t shake the picture.

And looking back, it wasn`t assist odd and dramatic as I thought it was at the time. The Italian mafia called itself La Cosa Nostra, this thing of hours, and always drew the line between someone who was a friend of yours, meaning someone outside the family, and someone who was a friend of ours, meaning an official member of the family.

I sat there thinking, holy crap, they`re trying to make each of us an "amica nostra", a friend of ours, to draw us in. A crazy as it sounds, I suddenly had a feeling that in a blink of the eye, the president-elect was trying to make us all part of the same family and that team Trump had made it a thing of ours.

For my entire career, intelligence was a thing of mine and political spin a thing of yours. Team Trump wanted to change that. I should have said something right then.

In that moment, though, I convinced myself that speaking up would be crazy. I didn`t know these people and they didn`t know me. We had just served up, the Russians tried to get you elected. Should I now give them a lecture about how you should behave with us? And when I`m about to have a private session with the president-elect to talk about Russian hookers.?

Nope, don`t think so. So I said nothing. And nobody else said anything, either. Nobody on the Trump team thought to say, hey, maybe this is a conversation for later, or perhaps we should move on, Mr. President-elect.

We waited quietly -- I`ll skip ahead here for a second. This now goes to the part where Comey has to tell Trump about the -- the part of the Steele dossier involving the hotel room and the ladies and somebody drinking too much water. You remember that? OK.

We waited quietly while the others filed out. When we were alone, the president-elect spoke first, throwing out compliments. You`ve had one heck of a year, he said, adding that I`d handled the Clinton e-mail investigation honorably and had a great reputation. This was nice of him to say and there seemed to be genuine concern and appreciation in his voice. I nodded in gratitude with a tight smile.

He said that the people of the FBI really like you. He expressed his hope that I would stay on as director. I replied, I intend too, sir.

Though it might have been the polite or obvious thing to say to ingratiate myself with the president-elect, I didn`t thank him for saying this, because I already had the job for a stated ten-year term. I didn`t want it to appear as if I needed to reapply. In fact, only one in fact bureau`s history was an FBI director fired before the end of his term, when Bill Clinton without controversy removed William Sessions in 1993 over allegations of serious ethical improprieties.

Ironically, the man Clinton replaced him with, Louis Freeh, turned out to be a thorn in the administration`s side as he pressed aggressively for investigations of alleged administration misdeeds. After Trump finished with his opening monologue which lasted a minute or so, I explained the nature of the material I was about to discuss and why we thought it was important he know about it.

I than began to summarize the allegation in the dossier that he`d been with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel in 2013 and that the Russians had filmed the episode. I didn`t mention one particular allegation in the dossier, that he was having prostitutes urinate on each other on the very bed President Obama and the first lady had once slept in, as a way of soiling the bed. I figured that single detail was not necessary to put him on notice about the material.

This whole thing was weird enough. As I spoke, I felt a strange out of body experience, as if I were watching myself speak to the new president about prostitutes in Russia. Before I finished, Trump interrupted sharply with a dismissive tone. He was eager to protest that the allegations weren`t true.

I explained that I wasn`t saying the FBI believed the allegations. We simply thought it important that he know that they were out there and being widely circulated. I added that one of the FBI`s jobs is to protect the presidency from any kind of coercion. And whether or not the allegations were true, it`s important to know -- excuse me, it was important to know that he know Russians might be saying such things.

I stressed that we did not want to keep information from him, particularly given that the press was about to report it. He again strongly denied the allegations, asking, rhetorically, I assumed, whether he seemed like a guy who needed the services of prostitutes. He then began discussing cases where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised. He mentioned a number of women. He seemed to have memorized their allegations. And it goes on from there.

This is from the new James Comey book that`s not supposed to be out until next week from former FBI Director James Comey. He will do his first interview about this book and about his time in the Trump administration and time at the FBI on Sunday night. He`ll hopefully still do a long interview with me about it next week.

But this book did spring a leak today. So, now, we know some of what the White House and the Republican Party have been freaking out about. In just a remarkable microcosmic snapshot of what the Republican Party has become under this president, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Party has assembled a war room to go to war against the former FBI director, ahead of the publication of this book.

The Republican Party as an institution has built a Website, installed a multi-person team. They are running a full-time, full-scale public relations offensive to attack the FBI and to attack the former FBI director, because they are so scared of this book.

I mean, this is the FBI director who was fired by the president, it seems, because of the Russia investigation. That`s at least what the president has said about why he fired Comey. That led to questions about whether that firing was a criminal act by the president, because it was an effort by him to obstruct the Russia investigation, to obstruct justice.

After firing Comey, the White House and the president have personally spent nearly a year denouncing Comey and calling him a liar. We`ve reported on this show just in the last two days, on contemporaneous handwritten notes made by a senior Justice Department official that appear to corroborate Comey`s account of what happened between him and the president.

That senior official is now general counsel of the FBI. He has now been interviewed by the Mueller investigation and handed over his notes. I said at the top of the show a few minutes ago that you no longer really need to distinguish between the personnel drama that has been a hallmark of this administration and this scandal, the existential scandal that has loomed over this administration from day one. It`s all coming together now. It`s all the same thing.

Well, last night, we reported on the big list of Justice Department officials, including a whole bunch of Trump appointees, who have been ordered to hand over to Mueller`s investigators all their communications, their electronic devices, their records, not just related to the Russia investigation, but also related to the firing of James Comey, because people have been a witnesses to these things.

There is voluminous evidence and testimony and records of this stuff that has already been handed over, already processed, already part of -- can we put up the findings again? Can we put up the -- yes, thank you. Already - - it`s already there`s voluminous stuff that has been handed over that is already part of what are apparently at least four major findings related to the president and criminal obstruction of justice that Robert Mueller and his team are apparently ready to report.

So, Comey`s book is out. They can`t shut him up, no matter what they`re going to try to turn the Republican Party into to try to do that. The obstruction case against the president is apparently built and it has at least four parts and we`re told tonight that it is basically ready to report.

It is all coming together. And I don`t know what`s going to happen next.

And there is just one more piece of it that you should know about, as you are setting your own expectations for what happens next in our country. I do not usually do this. This is not my bailiwick.

But if you are a person who doesn`t usually watch our friends over at the Fox News Channel, you might not know what`s been going on over there in the last few days. And you should know, because this is what the president`s watching and what he`s been telling people to watch.

There`s actually one report from a CBS News reporter today that the president has been personally calling people and telling them to go on the air at Fox and say this particular stuff, to create this particular climate of expectation among the Fox News audience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If there was ever a time that President Trump was going to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel in this Russia investigation, it would be now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would fire the SOB in three seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is nobody in America that needs firing more than Mueller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: James Comey is a dirty cop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let`s look at the Mueller crime family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rod Rosenstein is so incompetent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think he can serve on an investigation in which he will end up being the key witness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff Sessions, tomorrow morning, should fire Rod Rosenstein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The attorney general is incompetent, the FBI is corrupt, and Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein are unethical and abusive of the legal process. All of them deserve to be fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: This is not cable news wars. I do not make a habit of just like showing you what`s happening on all the other cable news shows. I show you that, because that`s what the president watches for information. And that`s what he has been digesting in terms of his diet.

The president`s cabinet has some big holes in it. His National Security Council is now emptying out, rapidly, but it is headed by someone who he found on Fox News. He doesn`t really have a Russia legal defense team anymore, but he reportedly likes to take legal advice on the Russia scandal from people who he sees talking about it on Fox News. So, you should know, that`s what they`re serving right now, what I just showed you.

So, I don`t know what happens next. We`ve got smart people here tonight to help us figure it out. So you should sit tight.

If you`ll forgive me, though, I also want to tell you that I think you should drink more water than you have been. I think you should eat your Wheaties. Take your vitamins. Get good sleep when you can. Check in with your friends and your kids and your parents. Make a plan.

When politics goes right in a well-run country, citizens do not have to think much about their government and about the responsibilities of citizenship. The contrary is also true. This is a time to be sober and be calm and to be paying attention. Heads up, everybody.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We weren`t supposed to get the book, but we got the book. Quote, I don`t know whether the media storm that followed my disclosure of the February 14th "let it go" conversation -- that`s a conversation about Mike Flynn -- whether the media storm that followed my disclosure of that conversation prompted the Department of Justice leadership to appoint a special counsel. The FBI may already have been pushing for the appointment of a special counsel after seeing the Trump tweet about tapes.

I just know that the Department of Justice did so shortly thereafter, giving Robert Mueller the authority to investigate any coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign and any related matters. I also don`t know whether the special counsel will find criminal wrongdoing by the president or others who have not been charged as of this writing.

One of the pivotal questions I presume that Bob Mueller`s team is investigating is whether or not in urging me to back the FBI off our investigation of his national security adviser and in firing me, President Trump was attempting to obstruct justice, which is a federal crime. It`s certainly possible. There is at least circumstantial evidence in that regard and there may be more that the Mueller team will assemble.

I`ve prosecuted and overseen many cases involving obstruction of justice, but in this case, I am not the prosecutor. I am a witness. I have one perspective on the behavior I saw, which while disturbing and violating basic norms of ethical leadership, may fall short of being illegal.

Central to the question of obstruction, for example, is a showing of President Trump`s intent. Is there sufficient proof that he intended to take those actions and others to derail a criminal investigation with corrupt intent? Because I don`t know all the evidence, I can`t answer that question with any certainty. I do know that as of this writing, special counsel Mueller and his team are hard at work and the American people can have confidence that unless their investigation is blocked in some fashion, they will get to the truth, whatever that is.

That`s from James Comey`s new book, which isn`t out yet.

Joining us now, Nicolle Wallace, host of "DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE," weekdays at 4:00 p.m. Eastern here on MSNBC. She`s former communications director for President George W. Bush and a nice and smart person.

Hello.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST, "DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE": Hi.

MADDOW: You`ve had a chance to look at a little bit of what we -- we obtained an early copy of the book.

WALLACE: Can I touch it?

MADDOW: Yes, you can.

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: Because I`ve just been reading it on the Internet, on Google.

MADDOW: Yes. So let me ask you about either that obstruction point that he`s making, saying, I don`t know, I`m a witness, I`m not a prosecutor, or whatever else you`ve seen that you think is important.

WALLACE: So you started your show with the great reporting from our colleagues here about the four instances that we`ve known to have been under the microscope by Mueller`s team to build a potential obstruction of justice case. The firing of Jim Comey --

MADDOW: And the intent behind it, right?

WALLACE: Right. The crafting of a bogus story to explain Don Jr.`s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower. The dangling of pardons in front of people like Paul Manafort and John Dowd -- or I`m sorry, John Dowd dangling pardons in front of Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn before they were charged, and at least in Mike Flynn`s case, before he became a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe.

These instances are being examined to get at just what the question that Jim Comey poses, criminal intent. And I think if you look at all of those things, if you look at Mark Corallo, who left the Trump legal defense team over the crafting of the bogus statement aboard Air Force One --

MADDOW: Saying he believed it might be obstruction of justice.

WALLACE: Because he believed it was obstruction of justice. He saw something that made him think it crossed that line. Jim Comey draws a lot of lines in this book.

Now, it`s good that James Comey calls himself a witness and doesn`t draw any conclusions about obstruction, because he is a witness. But the other witnesses include the sitting White House council, Don McGahn.

MADDOW: Yes.

WALLACE: They include Steve Bannon. They include just about everyone who was either on the campaign or has went into this West Wing. So, Bob Mueller knows everything. Bob Mueller knows the answers to all the questions that Jim Comey posed in that excerpt you just read.

MADDOW: What do you think about the fact that the RNC -- so not the White House, but the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Party has put together a war room to denounce James Comey. They`ve put up a Website about him, calling him Lyin` Comey. They`re going to war against the FBI and against Comey to try to turn people against him on the occasion of the publication of this book.

I mean, as somebody -- as a Republican and somebody who`s highly involved in high-level Republican politics, what do you make of that decision?

WALLACE: Look, I just think it`s another illustration of the complete decimation of the Republican Party`s standing for anything that it was supposed to stand for. And I know you`ve never been a fan, but I`m a former practicing member of the party, and it never stood for character assassination of a man like Jim Comey, who served Republican presidents.

And you may disagree with every single policy that George W. Bush advanced, but Jim Comey was a faithful and loyal servant in the George W. Bush Justice Department. So to have today`s RNC crafting a plan and staff a war room to smear him is a disgrace.

MADDOW: Nicolle, we`ve had some breaking news about the president reportedly planning a pardon. ABC News is reporting that he has signed off on a pardon that is a surprise. I want to explain that story and get your reaction when we come back.

Can you stay with us?

WALLACE: Of course.

MADDOW: OK. We`ll be right back with Nicolle Wallace. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: ABC News has broken a story tonight that I want to tell you, we have not confirmed. NBC News has not confirmed this. I`m bringing it to you tonight, even though we have not confirmed it, because it is a source of significant discussion. And if it comes to pass, this will be a big deal.

According to Jonathan Karl, Katherine Faulders and John Santucci at ABC News, quote, President Trump is posed to pardon Scooter Libby? Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was convicted in 2007 of lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice and the investigation into the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, a former covert CIA operative, then President George W. Bush commuted Libby`s 30- month sentence, which spared him sentence time, but he didn`t pardon him.

Since the conviction, Libby has since had his law license restored and former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell restored his voting rights in 2013. The president has already signed off on the pardon. Attorneys Joe diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, are among the conservatives who have been urging a pardon for Libby.

Joining us once again is my friend, Nicolle Wallace, host of the "DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE", weekdays at 4:00 p.m. Eastern here on MSNBC, and former communications director for George W. Bush, which means you know -- well, you know at least the people involved.

WALLACE: I know -- I knew Scooter -- I know Scooter well. I had lunch with him the day before he was charged. I was involved in crafting the response from the president and from the vice president on the day that he was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, and I have to say that in that moment, it was probably clear how it was going to go down.

The president had a very brief and simple statement, the vice president a very impassioned and angry statement. The vice president, I think, it didn`t hold as a secret for long that Vice President Cheney thought that not pardoning Scooter Libby was a mistake, wanted that pardon for his longtime aide.

George W. Bush, I have never heard express any regret about not pardoning Scooter Libby. George W. Bush thought that the crimes of obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI were serious enough that he wasn`t going to pardon him. I think that they are the same crimes that people like Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort -- Paul Manafort has been charged with a lot of things but --

MADDOW: Rick Gates.

WALLACE: -- the kind of crimes that Rick Gates and the people around Donald Trump have either been charged with, pleaded guilty to, or look like they are vulnerable of being charged with.

So, to create a narrative, the likes of which they`ve created on Fox News, which you`ve just showed, which is sort of shocking. I`ve done that too, though, before, because I think when people ask about what happens next, and I think that comment about eating your Wheaties and fortifying yourself is a good one, because what happens next could be nothing, because I think Fox News is conditioning the company to accept a pardon for someone like Scooter Libby so they can accept a pardon for everyone in Donald Trump`s seemingly corrupt enterprise.

MADDOW: The crimes for which Libby were convicted was lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice. If this is part of a larger effort by the White House, the president himself, the Republican Party and their supporters in conservative media to define the FBI as bad, criminal --

WALLACE: Biased.

MADDOW: Biased, something that needs to be opposed and denounced, then lying to a bad organization like that shouldn`t be seen as a bad thing.

WALLACE: And we shouldn`t -- we shouldn`t soft pedal what they`re saying about the FBI. They are saying worse things than that about the FBI. I mean, they are -- they have described Bob Mueller, a -- who earned combat - -

MADDOW: Decoration.

WALLACE: Decorations for his heroism in Vietnam, they have tied him in a graphic as the head of a mob family. There has been a pathetic oppo research dump on him for things tied to some of the cases he prosecuted. I mean, they are going after someone who is as much an architect of the policies that kept us safe after 9/11 on the law enforcement side as anyone.

So, to see Fox News and the Republicans sort of follow them over the cliff in trying to assassinate the character of -- not just the FBI as an institution, which they are clearly trying to do in advance of this book and an ongoing manner with Donald Trump as president, but to see them pull Mueller into that is staggering, it`s stunning, and I think the pardon is part of that strategy.

MADDOW: Nicolle Wallace, thank you, my friend. I appreciate having you here. Thanks for coming back in after you worked a full day already.

I will just reiterate the breaking news that from, well, a few different elements of breaking news tonight. Number one, James Comey`s book has unexpectedly leaked in advance of its publication date. The White House and the RNC appear to be in full freak-out mode over Comey`s book. NBC News has reported tonight that Mueller has arrived at four findings involving the president and obstruction of justice, including dangling pardons for people who are about to speak to the grand jury -- about to testify before the grand jury.

And ABC News is now reporting, although NBC is not confirming it, that the president is poised to pardon former Dick Cheney chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who was convicted more than a decade ago, of lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice. Anything else?

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: The president is a fan of the "National Enquirer," which you have seen at the supermarket. Now, the president is friends with the publisher of the "National Enquirer". And at the "National Enquirer," the feeling is more than mutual. The "National Enquirer" loves the president, almost as much as it hates his enemies.

In case you`re not that regular reader, this has been "The Enquirer" in the last couple of months, quote: Surrounded by traitors, Donald and Melania fight back. How they will crush their enemies.

Also, explosive "Enquirer" investigation proves that Obama and Hillary ordered FBI to spy on Trump.

Responding to the Michael Wolff book, "Fire and Fury," proof, Obama behind books of lies, fake news author shocking claims, staffers think Donald is dumb, false! His ego is out of control, false! He`s hated by his own family, false!

Also, proof, FBI plot to impeach Trump. Did you know that`s how the Constitution works? Down at the bottom, this is actually my favorite part. What Donald Jr. is doing to stop it.

So, this has been going on for a while. During the election, it was all Trump boosterism, when it was not Hillary Clinton conspiracy theories. "The Enquirer" was all about Hillary blackmailing the FBI and Hillary caught in gay sex sting, having seedy romp at this motel.

Then there was the bombshell about Clinton`s secret hit man. Or that time, she gained 5,000 pounds. I mean, we`re used to "The Enquirer" being like celebrity divorces and somebody`s too fat and somebody`s too skinny and everybody`s always on the brink of dying, right?

But in the heat of the general election in 2016, this very widely distributed, low-brow, high-profile supermarket tabloid really stopped doing most of the other stuff they are known to do and instead they became full-time, full-bore this. And right around that time, the "National Enquirer," its parent company, also paid 150 grand to a former Playboy model to purchase the rights to her story of a months-long adulterous affair that she says she had with Donald Trump, an affair Mr. Trump denies.

The company AMI bought that story from Karen McDougal. They never published it. Ms. McDougal signed an agreement, barring her from telling anybody else the story.

So, in the tabloid business, they call that catch and kill, find somebody who has a story to tell, pay them for it, and then you don`t run it. "National Enquirer" publisher David Pecker in this case caught and killed that Karen McDougal story for his friend, Donald Trump. Now, AMI has denied they coordinated in any way with Trump or killed the story for Trump.

But last month, Ms. McDougal sued AMI, saying they tricked her when she signed away the right to tell her story because she says AMI and her own lawyer were secretly coordinating with Trump`s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to get the story killed. So she thought she had a lawyer representing her, but she actually didn`t. She was part of a scheme to make her go away.

And that $150,000 payment from AMI to Karen McDougal, that is now reportedly one of the things the FBI was searching for evidence about when they raided Cohen`s office and hotel room on Monday. So, yes, it`s the "National Enquirer." But these payments to bury stories about alleged adultery by the president, including one made by the publisher of "The Enquirer", these are apparently right at the center of the federal raid for the president`s personal attorney this week. Time to take it seriously.

And now, we`ve learned about yet another of those payments. Hold that thought.

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MADDOW: On any other day, this story -- quote: Eight months before the company that owns the "National Enquirer" paid $150,000 to a former Playboy playmate who claimed she had an affair with Donald Trump, the tabloid`s parent company made a $30,000 payment to a less famous individual, a former doorman at one of Trump`s New York City buildings. That doorman received 30 grand in exchange for signing over the rights in perpetuity to a rumor he had heard about Trump`s sex life, that the president had fathered a child with an employee at Trump World Tower.

The contract subjected the doorman to a $1 million penalty if he disclosed either the rumor or the terms of the deal to anyone.

Now, I should note that one of the doorman`s story has not been verified by NBC News or any news organization. But there`s this weird detail. Even though the "National Enquirer" didn`t run the story, the doorman story, because they say they didn`t believe it was true, for some reason, the president`s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, says he discussed the doorman story with the "National Enquirer" while the tabloid was working on the matter.

Why would he end up talking about with him about it if they didn`t think it was true and they were never going to run it? That`s not when you call for comment.

For its part, AMI, which owns "The Enquirer", says that neither Donald Trump nor Michael Cohen had anything to do with their decision not to print the story. NBC News has asked the White House for comment on this story from the "A.P." tonight, but even that was awkward. And we haven`t heard back.

Joining us is Jeff Horwitz. He`s an investigative reporter at the "Associated Press", who broke this story.

Mr. Horwitz, thank you for being with us tonight. Much appreciated.

JEFF HORWITZ, ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTER: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: So, the "National Enquirer" said they bought the story even though they don`t believe it was true.

HORWITZ: Yes, that`s not the standard practice. We`ve spoken to a great number of "National Enquirer" former employees and the standard practice, I`m not sure they deny this, is that they traditionally pay only for tips when those tips see print. It doesn`t make sense to pay a tipster before you know whether the tip is going to pan out.

And that, in fact, is what they originally agreed to do with Dino Sajudin, the tipster. After he passed his lie detector test, and he did pass it, about how he learned of this story, "The Enquirer" changed him to a contract that paid him out in full, $30,000, and also signed him up for a $1 million legal liability if he broke his side of the contract, a little disproportionate there.

MADDOW: So --

HORWITZ: And at that point, that ended the thing.

MADDOW: And understanding the way this diverges from the "National Enquirer`s" own typical tactics in this matter. It`s interesting enough, I`m also fascinated by the fact that you were able to get Michael Cohen, the president`s attorney, to admit to you he was in communication with the "Enquirer" about this story.

That strikes me as very unusual because when you`re reporting something out, you don`t -- you don`t confirm it with the source of the story with the spokesperson of the heart of the person at the story until you`re comfortable knowing that you`re asking them about something that`s true.

HORWITZ: Well, this is the odd thing about the relationship in general, is that Michael Cohen goes back with "National Enquirer" for years. In fact, he actually knew David Pecker, who`s the publisher of "The Enquirer" before he actually even knew Donald Trump, according to him.

I mean, his relationship with "The Enquirer" definitely was strong during the campaign. He was in touch with them about the content they ran and as he puts it himself, an unabashed, you know, a backer of the president and someone who will happily play the role of fixer when he needs to be.

So, that much isn`t that surprising. The strange thing is, I guess, why "National Enquirer" would have paid for a rumor it believes to be false, when, in fact, it`s -- it was in touch with the president`s personal attorney on a regular basis, if the president`s personal attorney wasn`t suggesting maybe it should.

MADDOW: Jeff, do you have any sense why the federal investigators who raided Michael Cohen`s office this week might be interested in this? I find it fascinating for all the reasons everyone does, but what could be criminal about this?

HORWITZ: So, there`s certainly the question of where the money came from. The "National Enquirer" is not, to the best of my knowledge, a particularly flush publication in terms of just being able to throw money at whatever it wants. It`s gone through two bankruptcies and a number of layoffs over the years.

And so, beyond the question of where did the money come from, there`s also a question of campaign finance, a group called Common Cause, has filed a couple complaints over Karen McDougal matter and others, and I believe also now this one, basically saying, hey, wait a minute, if money was getting paid for stories that whenever meant to run but we`re in fact intended hush money, that`s a campaign finance violation.

MADDOW: Jeff Horwitz, investigative reporter at the "Associated Press", Jeff, thank you for your time tonight. Much appreciated.

HORWITZ: Thank you.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: So this is another one of those nights. And we`ve had a lot of them over the course of the last 14 months. But tonight sort of does feel like a big one. There`s a lot going on in the news right now and stuff has been breaking into this evening.

Reiterating the scoop from NBC News tonight which is that Robert Mueller and his prosecutors have arrived at least four findings with regard to the president and obstruction of justice. Those findings are reportedly close to ready to being reported. The Mueller investigation intends to put them in a report form that goes to Rod Rosenstein, we don`t know what will happen to that report.

But apparently there are four findings related to the president and obstruction of justice that Mueller and his team have basically ready to go. That comes as part of an NBC News report tonight that the president is likely not going to sit for an interview with Robert Mueller. That has its own implications, but one of them may be that the obstruction report from Mueller arrives sooner rather than later. We know that it contains at least four elements.

Also, the James Comey book accidentally came out early. Oops.

That does it for us tonight. 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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