Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 17, 2018 Guest: Carol Leonnig
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Chris Hayes, did Eric Holder, former attorney general of the United States, just tell you in a live interview that he is thinking about running for president?
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": He did indeed.
MADDOW: You are such a better interviewer than I am.
HAYES: Stop it, stop it.
MADDOW: I asked him the exact same thing and I got to like, I`m not talking about it. You know, I got the absolute -- the typical response and you just elucidate that from him, he`s thinking about running for president?
HAYES: You know, I think I sneak up on people some how.
MADDOW: Yes. You`ve got something that I do not have. Congratulations, my friend.
HAYES: Thank you. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
As Chris noted, we are still absorbing the sad national news this hour that former First Lady Barbara Bush has passed away at the age of 92. We had thought this might be coming, because of news in the past couple of days that her health had taken a turn and that she was going to be seeking only palliative care, rather than curative care from here on out.
Still though, it is a shock and it is sad news. All first ladies are unique. Barbara Bush cut a uniquely high profile in that role. She was beloved. She was occasionally feared. She was very powerful as first lady. She`s only the second woman in U.S. history to have ever been both the wife to one U.S. president and the mother to another.
The only other woman in U.S. history who bears that distinction is Abigail Adams. We will have more on the passing of Barbara Bush coming up a little later on in this show this hour tonight. NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss will be here with us for that. We are also just learning the surprising news, breaking news this hour, that outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Mike Pompeo, whose nomination to become secretary of state has been foundering in the Senate.
Mike Pompeo has reportedly just returned from North Korea, where he met personally with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
Now, this is a remarkably rare, high level in person meeting between a dictator from that country and a senior U.S. official. And, of course, it precedes what is expected to be a totally unprecedented in person meeting between that dictator and the serving American president, President Trump saying today that that meeting between him and Kim Jong-un may happen in just a few weeks time.
Well, as of tonight, now we know that Mike Pompeo went first and met in person with Kim Jong-un. We will have a live report coming up later on in the show with one of the reporters who broke that news tonight.
The other thing we`re following tonight is a new freak-out over Russia sanctions. The last time someone in the U.S. government got freaked out about somebody in the Trump administration coming in and undermining sanctions against Russia, undermining sanctions against Russia and not telling the truth about that, that was how we got the Justice Department warning the White House about national security adviser Mike Flynn. That`s how we got Mike Flynn apparently flunking his FBI interview on that subject, and then Flynn pleading guilty to a felony and the president reportedly telling the FBI that they should drop their investigation into Flynn on this issue and then we got the president being investigating for potentially trying to obstruct justice, in the matter of Flynn and Russia and the sanctions and the FBI.
In other words, it did not work out well for anybody involved. The last time other people in government witnessed someone in the Trump administration monkey wrenching, secretly monkey wrenching U.S. sanctions against Russia. Now, it is happening again, except this time, it is not the president`s national security adviser who has been spotted doing the monkey wrenching, this time, it is the president himself.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced that there would be new sanctions against Russia just two days ago. We got remarkable reporting from "The Washington Post" thereafter about the president cursing and screaming and being both confused and enraged by the last set of U.S. actions, his administration took toward Russia. Well, now that Nikki Haley announced that there will be new sanctions, we`ve got the president undoing the new sanctions that Nikki Haley just announced, and apparently sort of lying about it, blaming Nikki Haley for it. She`s apparently not going along with that ruse.
So, this is a not very old administration, you would think they wouldn`t have been around long enough to already be making the same mistakes twice, but it looks like they may be screwing the same thing up, for a second time, even though the first time they screwed it up, it resulted in felony charges for some and potentially worse than that for the president himself. So, a lot of news breaking this evening, a lot to get to over the course of this hour.
The nation`s political center of gravity was unusually divided for a second straight day today. We`re used to the political center of the country being Washington and the financial and media center of the country being New York. But with this remarkable criminal case continuing to unfold involving the president`s personal lawyer, the president`s political fate right now feels as much tied up in this case in federal district court in lower Manhattan as it does with anything that`s happening right now in Washington. So, the nation`s sort of political center of gravity seems to be in two places right now.
Now, we expect that we`re going to see further public disclosures from that court case tomorrow morning. The judge in that case, Federal District Court Judge Kimba Wood, is now deciding whether or not she`s going to bring in a neutral third party, a special master, to look at the documents and materials that were seized from Michael Cohen, to see if any of those documents should be kept away from prosecutors, because they are attorney/client communications that need to be kept confidential.
Tomorrow, we expect that we will see the court consider some names of people who might conceivably get appointed to that kind of job if the court decides they`re going to go that kind of route. And that`s not the kind of legal question that would typically transfix the country, but in this case, every little twist and turn here feels like it might have serious implications for the immediate future of our country, and I don`t think I`m overstating the case to say it that way. That`s because of two things, number one, this case in federal court in New York really does seem to be about the president himself.
And number two, this thing is not being pursued by the special counsel`s office. It`s been pursued by regular old federal prosecutors. And the implications of those two things, I think, are starting to sink in for us, the public, but they are also starting to sink in for the people who are directly involved here, even for the lawyers who are working this case.
I want to show you one transcript from the last court hearing in this case. This is Michael Cohen`s lawyers pleading with the judge, pleading with Judge Wood about how big a deal this all is, and basically, how bewildered they are by this whole turn of events in this incredibly important case.
All right. So, this is from the transcript. Lawyer Todd Harrison, Mr. Cohen`s lawyer, speaking to the judge, quote: Let me just explain last week, and what happened. Mr. Cohen`s law office and home and everything else was raided on Monday. I came onto this case on Monday night or Tuesday.
So, he says, when we appeared in front of the court and filed our papers and appeared in front of the court on Friday, I had been on the case for two and a half, three days, maybe. We hadn`t had time to sit down with our client and go over all this information about what had happened. And so, when we had our discussions in court on Friday, I didn`t know that I got into enough -- I don`t know that I got into enough detail. I probably should have gotten into more detail about how recently I`d gotten into the case. I had been in it for three days. I needed time to sit down and figure things out.
And the judge interjects. I`m going to interrupt you for a moment. Your letter says on page two that Stephen Ryan of your firm has been working on the special counsel`s investigation on the related House of Representatives and Senate inquiries regarding, among other things, campaign finance matters. I recognize, Mr. Harrison, that you personally just have come to this, but Mr. Ryan has been in it for awhile, right?
Stephen Ryan responds, can I just mention, your Honor, if you think of swim lanes in a pool, my swim lane was Russia and the related issues to Russia. And then the judge says, well, it says in the letter, as well as campaign financing. Mr. Ryan says, yes, that`s only happened within the last few weeks and it`s in relation to federal campaign law issues which is narrow.
With all due respect, your honor, all of us started on Monday with a completely different matter. I want to say, there are five paragraphs in attachment A that deal directly with seeking the papers of the president of the United States in possession of my client. It`s not what the government is represented. It`s about my client`s personal life. There are five paragraphs there. This case is that.
So, this is -- you can tell that Cohen`s lawyers are a little bewildered here, right? The transcript catches them sort of switching tents mid- sentence and feeling their way through, kind of apologizing to the judge for not having it together. But you can also tell what they`re freaking out about. Cohen says, this is not about my client`s personal life.
Can we put up that last part of the transcript there again? Can we put that back up? This is what he says: There are five paragraphs in attachment A that deal directly with seeking the papers of the president of the United States that are in possession of my client. There are five paragraphs there, he says. This case is that.
Now, we the public don`t know what attachment A is. We the public haven`t yet seen attachment A. We think it`s probably either the search warrant that a judge signed to authorize the FBI to go seize stuff from Michael Cohen, or maybe it`s a law enforcement affidavit that was in support of that search warrant, something that was used to persuade the judge to approve the warrant.
But in this case, I mean, presumably some day, we`ll see attachment A and this lawyer for Michael Cohen is saying that what the FBI was after when they searched Michael Cohen`s office, home, safe deposit box, hotel room, all of it, what they were after was information pertaining directly and individually to the president, as spelled out in a five-paragraph long description of what the FBI was going to seize.
So, this case is not just, oh, trouble for the president`s kooky lawyer who you`ve seen on TV. This is about the president, directly, which may be why the people directly involved in this case now in New York appear to be a little rattled as this thing has continued to unfold. But as I said, this -- this is unfolding in New York, where prosecutors are -- have gotten very, very good, because they`ve had lots and lots of experience at nailing people in public corruption cases.
This is also New York, where any legal drama plays out in the same geographic space as the financial and media capital of the country. And so, there is an absurd media part of this case that continues to unfold, as well. And honestly, this is the part of it that is a little bit embarrassing to talk about, but it is part of it, and so, we`ve got to do it.
So, here we go, yesterday, we got this strange revelation in court after the president`s lawyer, who was raided by the FBI, president`s lawyer now the subject of a federal criminal investigation, he told the court that he only has three clients in his legal business. He told the court that he only wants to name two out of his three clients. He wanted to keep the other one secret, he said, because his unnamed third client told him to keep his name secret.
And the judge was like, yes, no. You`re not -- you`re not going to be able to hold back materials from a search warrant, because they represent confidential communications with your clients and also tell us that the identity of your clients is a secret. You can`t -- you can`t do both of -- that would be like -- you`re in high school and you come home late past your curfew, you tell your mom that she can`t ground you because you were late for such a good reason. Such a good secret reason that you can`t tell your mom, right?
What would your mom do? You mom would ground you if you tried that. Either, yes, you can tell me what the good reason is, or -- yes. Anyway, the judge yesterday grounded Michael Cohen on this point, which is how we learned that the cable news host guy who has been over the top criticizing the FBI raid on Michael Cohen`s office, calling it basically the death of the republic that the FBI did this, that particular cable news host wasn`t disclosing to his viewers, or apparently to his employer, that his take on this matter might have been inflected on the fact that his own legal materials could have been among those seized by the FBI in these raids on Cohen`s offices, since Michael Cohen is his lawyer, too.
Well, since that dramatic revelation in court yesterday, today, "The Atlantic" magazine has reported that it`s not just Michael Cohen, Mr. Hannity, on the Fox News Channel, has also retained at least one other of the president`s lawyers for his own legal matters, Jay Sekulow. Although at least in that instance, Mr. Hannity disclosed on the air that he had engaged Mr. Sekulow for his own legal work. That`s good. Disclosure is a good idea.
It does, however, just raise the question as to why he wouldn`t disclose it for the president`s other lawyer, with whom he also had a professional relationship. Why, in fact, is Michael Cohen saying he was directed by his client, Sean Hannity, to keep their relationship secret? He says -- he says to the court, officially, that Mr. Hannity told him he should appeal any legal order to disclose Mr. Hannity`s name.
Mr. Hannity was willing to disclose his legal relationship with Jay Sekulow. Why did he want to keep his relationship with Michael Cohen secret while reportedly hosting Michael Cohen on his show and opining on Mr. Cohen`s case?
And because the spring of 2018 is clearly drunk and it needs to go home, one of the women who Mr. Cohen says he paid just days before the election with his own money to stop her from talking about her alleged relationship with the president, Stormy Daniels, she is not only part of this court case in lower Manhattan, she now has everywhere to tell the story that Michael Cohen paid her $130,000 not to tell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: I worked very, very hard the last 10 years or so to really be known as a female director in the adult business, I was in the process of, like, moving onto some mainstream things, I directed some music videos. I had a passion project of mine in the works for the last several years to direct a horror movie and those people that were my investors have ghosted me. Like, they`ve completely abandoned me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will Trump be in the movie?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well-played.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Speaking of that, early this month, he broke his silence, denied knowing anything about hush money, where it came from. Let`s take a look.
REPORTER: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, no. What else?
REPORTER: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to her allegations?
TRUMP: You`ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael`s my attorney, and you`ll have to ask Michael.
REPORTER: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
TRUMP: No, I don`t know, no.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, did this surprise you at all?
DANIELS: Let me just say, I work in the adult business and I`m a better actress than he is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: After that appearance on "The View" today, we learned that Stormy Daniels will also be featured on the cover of a new issue of "Penthouse" magazine, in which she pledges that the $130,000 she got in the Michael Cohen deal will now be donated to Planned Parenthood in the president`s name. "Penthouse" also promising that Ms. Daniels will reveal not safe for work details, meaning detail details about her sexual experience with the president. Oh, good.
And yes, the whole thing will be accompanied by a new nude photo spread. There should be a different word -- photo spray, photo shoot, a big new naked photograph, whatever.
So, like I said, it`s not always easy to talk about this stuff, but now you know. And it -- I just -- it would be easy to see this as a sideshow, because of the characters and content involved, right? Because it`s not being operated out of the special counsel`s office, it`s in New York, because of the change multi-levels of media involvement and all the rest of it.
But what we can tell about the substance of this case shows that this is not a circus for the president. This is freaking serious. This is about him directly. There are five paragraphs in that attachment a that deal directly with seeking the papers of the president of the United States in possession of my client. There are five paragraphs there. This case is that. Deadly serious.
I`m going to leave you with two last things you should know are going on around the edges of this serious case. Number one is about James Comey. James Comey`s book is officially out today, you may have noticed. And you know the basics here, right? James Comey, fired by the president last year when he was overseeing the FBI`s investigation into the Russian attack on our election and the question if the Trump campaign was involved in that crime.
Comey`s firing in part prompted the naming of Robert Mueller as a special counsel to continue that investigation. Mueller`s special counsel office is reported by NBC news to have prepared at least four findings already on the president and the issue of obstruction of justice. One of those findings is reportedly about the president`s intent when he fired James Comey.
And that means any evidence of the president`s intent toward James Comey, his intention when it came to firing him, right now, that evidence would be part of a live ongoing FBI investigation within the special counsel. That part we have known. That is part of why we expected the publication of Mr. Comey`s book to be so agitating for the president and for this White House.
What we did not know is that Republicans in Congress would try to get that evidence from this live ongoing investigation in the middle of the investigation. Republicans Trey Gowdy, Devin Nunes and Bob Goodlatte have all made a demand of Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official overseeing the Mueller investigation. They have demanded that Rosenstein hand over to them this evidence. Hand over to them unredacted copies of Comey`s memos documenting his interactions with the president before he was fired.
These memos again are thought to be a key piece of evidence in an open, ongoing FBI investigation of the president, which could potentially result in the president being criminally charged. These Republican members of Congress are telling the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein in particular, that he needs to hand over that investigation.
Today, Rod Rosenstein asked for more time to consider their request. But it seems pretty clear that these Republican congressmen are asking for something they know he can`t really hand over in the middle of an investigation. You can`t give away the evidence in the middle of an ongoing hand over that investigation.
This is evidence that has not been made publicly available. It has been described, but the memos themselves have not been distributed to the public. They are part of a live investigation, which means it appears that these members of Congress are setting Rod Rosenstein up to tell them no, you can`t have what you`re asking for, which means they may be setting up a new artificial confrontation, a new possible pretense to say that Rod Rosenstein is some kind of bad guy who ought to be fired at the Justice Department. Oh, and by the way, he`s overseeing the Mueller investigation, so, let`s put somebody new in there, right?
That is happening right now. That demand for documents for Rosenstein is happening right now. He got an extension for a few more days to consider their request, but watch that, because it seems pretty clear why they`re doing it.
With the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, saying on the Fox News Channel this afternoon that he will not move any legislation even bipartisan legislation to protect Mueller from being fired by the president, just watch this, watch what these Republicans are doing in Congress to prepare the ground for the president to start firing people. That`s happening right now, watch that, that`s one.
Second thing to watch, and this is the final thing, watch the Southern District of New York. That is where this important but raucous court proceeding is going on concerning the president`s lawyer and the FBI fulfilling a search warrant that demands paperwork concerning the president`s interactions with Michael Cohen. Southern District of New York is the prosecutor`s office where President Trump unexpectedly last year fired Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in that office. He had previously insisted to Bharara that he could keep his job in the Trump administration, but then he fired him anyway.
After Bharara was fired, career prosecutors took over the U.S. attorney`s office for awhile, but then in January, the president installed a new interim U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, his name is Geoffrey Berman. He`s a Trump donor. He worked on the Trump transition. He is a law partner of Trump`s friend Rudy Giuliani. He controversially took a meeting about the U.S. attorney job before Trump named him to the position in an interim capacity in January.
By January, we now know that office had also apparently opened this criminal investigation into the president`s lawyer, into Michael Cohen. And according to "The New York Times" now, Geoffrey Berman, the newly appointed interim head of that office, who had just got that job from Trump in the first week of January, he very soon after getting that job recused himself from the Cohen case. So, he wouldn`t be involved in the Cohen case at all. And we don`t know why he did that.
"The Times" reporting that Mr. Berman wasn`t recused because he had any known relationship with Cohen, wasn`t recused because he is Giuliani`s law partner. He wasn`t even recused of that personal meeting he took with Trump before he got the job. But for some reason, he was recused. Ethics officials at main justice in Washington apparently told him he should recuse.
So, the president`s personal lawyer is in court and the FBI is raiding his office and his home looking for papers pertaining to the president, and the president`s pick to run the office conducting that investigation has stepped aside and is not -- decided to not be involved in this matter. Why is that? And how long does that stand?
Here`s something that`s important to know here. In the next two and a half weeks, President Trump has to decide if Geoffrey Berman is going to get formally nominated for that job in New York, or, if the president is going to let his interim appointment run out, where the president could stick someone new in there.
Geoffrey Berman is not confirmed by the Senate. He`s not even formally nominated to the Senate yet. He`s just an interim appointment. His interim appointment basically runs out in two and a half weeks, on May 3rd.
As this case unfolds, that is so directly about the president, the president now has a choice to make, between now and may 3rd, he could nominate Geoffrey Berman to the senate, keep Berman in that job. Berman is recused from the Cohen case, the Cohen case would presumably go on as it has been. Or the president could decide to not leave Geoffrey Berman in that job, perhaps he doesn`t like the fact that Berman is to inconveniently recused from this Michael Cohen case, this case that could decide the president`s fate.
If the president decides in the next two and a half weeks that he`s going to stick somebody new in there, presumably that person would not be recused from the Michael Cohen case. And then what would happen to the Michael Cohen case?
So, yes, keep watching this case unfold in Lower Manhattan. It is about the president to a degree we really ought to appreciate and take seriously. But watch these two things. Watch Republicans in Congress as they are readying the field for the president to start firing his way through the justice department to try to shut this thing down. And watch this one job at the helm of that office that is bringing that case. Eyes open.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Barbara Bush speaking at Wellesley College in 1990, doing her best to win over an audience of graduates, some of whom had protested her selection as the graduation speaker that year.
Barbara Bush was only the second woman in U.S. history after Abigail Adams to be the wife of one U.S. president and the mother of another. Tonight, Barbara Bush has died at the age of 92. She was the backbone of an American political dynasty, a family that includes presidents and governors. Her son Jeb was governor of Florida and a presidential candidate. Her president George W. Bush was governor of Texas before becoming president. Her grandson George P. Bush is now serving as a state land commissioner in Texas.
In the Bush family, Barbara was the enforcer, considered by everybody to be as strong, if not stronger than all of them. George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush hold the record as the longest married couple in American presidential history. Barbara Bush was a debutante from Rye, New York, when they met at a dance.
George H.W. Bush went on to become a decorated navy pilot in World War II. They got married when he was on leave from the navy. They marriage endured a truly remarkable 73 years, 73 years married, which is an astonishing number even in a marriage that doesn`t encompass two presidencies in the immediate nuclear family.
The Bushes also endured the death of their daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia at the age of 3. The family`s announcement of Barbara Bush`s passing noted that she was preceded in death by her daughter, Robin. As first lady, Barbara Bush championed the cause of literacy. Her son George W. Bush said of his mother`s passing tonight, quote, Barbara Bush was a fabulous first lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love and literacy to millions. We are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was, too. She kept us on our toes.
Former President Obama and Mrs. Obama put out a statement calling Barbara Bush the rock of a family dedicated to public service. They called her an example of humility and decency that reflects the very best of the American spirit.
We should say that Barbara Bush passed tonight in a way that was not unforeseeable. She suffered from congestive heart failure and pulmonary disease. She had been in failing health over the weekend. The family announced that Barbara Bush had chosen to stop further medical treatment to prolong her life and instead to just move to palliative care. She`s survived of course by former President George H.W. Bush, who himself is battling Parkinson. She`s also survived by her kids and grandkids. An American political family and dynasty like no other.
Joining us now is NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
Mr. Beschloss, thank you for joining us. It`s a sad night.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It is a sad night.
MADDOW: Barbara Bush was a high profile first lady. I think of her as somebody growing up during the George H.W. Bush and during the Reagan years, when she was the wife of the vice president, she, with those 12 years in the White House, carved out a high profile role, even among -- even within this era of high profile modern first ladies.
BESCHLOSS: She did. And, you know, I`m so glad you began with that clip of her speech at the Wellesley commencement in 1990, because this is a woman who, she never ran for office, but she campaigned with her husband and her sons, first in 1964 for her husband, Senate in Texas, finally, for Jeb Bush for president in 2016, 52 years. And that was just the period when women were, you know, coming into the mainstream of American professional life.
And you get to 1990, she`s inviting to give the commencement at Wellesley College and 150 students say, we don`t want you, we`re outraged, because the only reason you`ve been invited is because you`re nothing but a president`s wife. And she goes, despite the opposition to her being there, and gives this speech, saying, the whole idea of feminism is choice. You can choose to be a woman who raises her family and helps her husband and is somewhat more traditional, or you can do other things. And in a way, she sort of dominated the moment.
MADDOW: And is that the speech -- I`m going to paraphrase this and get it wrong --
BESCHLOSS: I lost sound for just one moment.
MADDOW: I`m sorry, do you have me now, Michael, you still with me. No, I`ve lost him.
NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
I`m going to say what I was going to say here in the hopes that he can come back. I think that speech at Wellesley is when Barbara Bush said, in that speech, that a man might one day follow in her footsteps as the president`s spouse, which also, in front of a Wellesley College audience at that point, would have been -- would have landed exactly the way that she would have wanted it to land.
Again, sad news, at the age of 92, Barbara Bush has passed away. You see her there with other first ladies. A remarkably high profile and effective woman in that role and also somebody who was seen by everybody, both within the family and outside it, as the absolute backbone of the Bush family as a political dynasty and as an American family of considerable consequence. Barbara Bush, dead tonight at the age of 92.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: The first time we heard about it, it already had a due date.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOST: Are there any consequences for Assad`s patrons, Russia and Iran, who continue to protect him?
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Absolutely. So, you will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. The Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn`t already, and that will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons used.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador, on Sunday morning, you will see Russian sanctions will be coming down on Monday. If it`s happened already, those are about to be announced.
Well, come Monday morning, that news led the front pages of both "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post." Russia to face new U.S. penalties, Trump to punish Russia.
But then those headlines got very stale very fast, because even though Nikki Haley had publicly announced the new sanctions on Russia, Russia responded, saying, they didn`t like that idea of those new sanctions, thank you very much. And though they had been rolled out by a cabinet official on national television, even though they were right there in black and white on the front pages of the two major national newspapers, the White House decided to take it back and actually to kind of pretend like it had never happened in the first place.
Monday afternoon, 2:13 p.m., Trump punts brakes on new Russian sanctions, reversing Haley`s announcement. So, Nikki Haley announced the sanctions on national TV, 10:35 a.m. on Sunday. The next day, nope, they`re taken back.
"Washington Post" reporting that President Trump was not comfortable with these new sanctions, even though they had already been announced. He decided he didn`t want them. So, the United States ambassador to the U.N. announced these new sanctions. Russia expressed upset about them and then the president said, oh, OK, sorry, there are no U.S. sanctions then. Never mind what we said before, no new sanctions.
So, it`s a remarkable turnabout on this issue of new sanctions on Russia because of their support for the Assad regime. But this comes right on the heels of some truly jaw-dropping reporting also from "The Washington Post" about the last time this administration made a decision to hit Russia. Apparently the president only did that by accident. He bumbled into it and it enraged him at the time.
This is from just a couple of weeks ago. The U.S. government expelling 60 Russian diplomats from our country, sending them back to Moscow, as part of an international coordinated effort to punish Russia for them poisoning one of their former spies on British soil.
Well, thanks to "The Post," we now have some color about how that decision was made, some color that will make you think differently about that decision forever. Quote: President Trump seemed distracted as his aides briefed him as his Mar-a-Lago resort last month on the administration`s plan to expel 60 Russian diplomats and suspected spies. The U.S., they explained, would be ousting roughly the same number of Russians as its European allies, part of a coordinated move to punish Moscow for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.
Trump instructed, quote, we`ll match their numbers. Quote, we`re not taking the lead. We`re matching.
The next day, when expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted, officials said, to his shock and dismay. France and Germany were each expelling only four Russian officials, far fewer than the 60 his administration has decided. The president seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States. His was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia.
His briefers tried to reassure him that the sum total of European expulsions was roughly the same as the U.S. official. The administration official recalled Trump screaming, quote, I don`t care about the total. Trump was furious that news reports described the expulsions as the largest purge in U.S. history and that news reports were noting the wide gap between the U.S. and its allies.
One official recalled Trump saying, if you had told me France and Germany were only doing four, that`s what we would have done. Growing angrier, Trump insisted his aides misled him about the magnitude about the expulsions. Quote, there were curse words, one official said. A lot of curse words.
I wonder which ones.
MADDOW: First he called her confused. Larry Kudlow, the president`s top economic adviser, tried to explain why the White House and the U.N. ambassador were making totally opposite, totally contradictory statements about new sanctions against Russia. Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador, announced new sanctions on Russia on Sunday.
But then, President Trump reportedly intervened to stop those new sanctions from going into effect. Thereafter, a decision was reportedly made at the White House that they would blame this change in policy not on the president, actually changing the policy, but they would blame it instead of Nikki Haley. Blaming Nikki Haley, that task fell to Larry Kudlow today, saying, quote, Nikki Haley got ahead of the curve. She`s done a great job. She`s a very effective ambassador, but there might have been some momentary confusion about that.
Which I guess is one way to explain it, unless you`re Nikki Haley. She responded to Mr. Kudlow tonight by saying, quote: With all due respect, I don`t get confused.
Larry Kudlow now says he`s apologized to Ambassador Haley. He now says it was he who was confused in this matter.
Carol Leonnig is the national investigative reporter at "The Washington Post". She is a newly minted Pulitzer Prize winner as of yesterday. Carol and colleagues broke the news yesterday about the president`s reversal on Nikki Haley`s sanctions announcement. Carol also broke the news tonight about Mike Pompeo making a covert trip to North Korea to meet personally with Kim Jong-un. And because she doesn`t have enough to do, Carol Leonnig also has a brand new fresh scoop tonight about the president`s legal team in the Mueller investigation and the question of whether the president will sit for an interview with the special counsel.
Carol, you are a very busy person. Thank you for making time to be with us tonight. Congratulations.
CAROL LEONNIG, NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you, Rachel. I enjoy your questions, so, I`m willing to come here late at night and do this over and over again.
MADDOW: I`m going to put that in a bottle and keep it next to my bed. Thank you very much to sort of saying that.
LEONNIG: Of course.
MADDOW: So, let me ask you first about this Nikki Haley reporting. "The Post" has had an amazing couple of stories about the president and his attitude toward Russia, first, the reporting that the president appeared to misunderstand the expulsion of Russian diplomats. He apparently didn`t know that the United States was going to be far out ahead of other countries in terms of the number of diplomats we were expelling.
Then, you guys were able to break the story that Nikki Haley`s announcement about new sanctions toward Russia is not something the president agreed with, or he was surprised with, or decided to reverse it once he realized how it was landing? How exactly did that go down?
LEONNIG: So, I don`t think, to be clear, I don`t think we`ve gotten entirely to the bottom of what happened on Sunday, but we do know this. It was a storm of consternation, concern, reversal and quickly trying to find somebody to blame for Nikki Haley`s comments on "Face the Nation" on Sunday morning. In them, she revealed what were in the Saturday night talking points, actually, for the administration, so, they shouldn`t have come as a shock to anybody in the White House, that there were going to be some sanctions unveiled on Monday by the treasury secretary, Mr. Mnuchin.
Now, the president appeared to either be surprised or outraged at this, and I feel like there`s going to be some more information to come out on this, beyond even what we and others have reported so far. I think there`s another big question mark about precisely what happened. But it`s clear that now, it`s led into a little bit of finger-pointing, you know, Larry Kudlow versus Ms. Haley over who was confused.
We were told when we reported on Sunday night and Monday morning about this that Nikki Haley was not confused, and was taking her direction directly from the White House. So, she wasn`t in front of her skis, according to many people around her. It was the president who changed his mind.
MADDOW: Is there also clarity here on the contact between the U.S. government and the Russian government on this matter? Obviously, Nikki Haley made this pronouncement on Sunday morning, on national television that the new sanctions were about to be announced, if they hadn`t been already. Did the U.S. government have contact with the Russian government thereafter, either because the Russians were upset or because the U.S. wanted to convey that what Nikki Haley said wasn`t going to come to past?
LEONNIG: So, our fantastic reporter in Moscow on Monday morning, very early, confirmed that, and we reported in our pages, he confirmed, essentially, that the Russians were given an assurance, a backdoor assurance from the White House on Sunday after Nikki Haley`s remarks, we don`t know exactly the hour, but they were given an assurance that no more sanctions would be coming and to just ignore what the U.N. ambassador had said on television.
MADDOW: Wow. Is that unusual? I mean, I guess -- a change of heart within an administration about a policy isn`t the craziest thing in the world, but to have something formally announced and then to have another government secretly back channel assured that a U.S. government official shouldn`t be listened to on this matter, it just strikes me as, like, something you wouldn`t believe in a movie.
LEONNIG: It`s pretty strange when you`re dealing with these kinds of stakes. You know, to have one very senior person, who is clearly trying to deliver the message of the United States, be both undercut and, you know, also on the other shoe, if you will to be communicating something that the administration is not going to deliver on. So, you usually have a lot of change of heart, it`s just behind the curtain. And in this case, it was very messy and out in the open.
MADDOW: Carol Leonnig, national investigative reporter for "The Washington Post", newly minted winner of the Pulitzer Prize -- Carol, thank you again. Really appreciate seeing you. Thank you.
LEONNIG: Of course. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: While we have been talking tonight about clashes and chaos inside the White House, we got word of another one. This one is on matters of life and death. "The New York Times" reporting in just the last few minutes that Defense Secretary James Mattis had insisted that President Trump get approval from Congress before he launched air strikes against Syria on Friday.
Now, citing military and administration officials, "The Times" says Mattis made that argument to the president, but he lost. The general`s call for congressional approval was, quote, overruled by Mr. Trump, who wanted a rapid and dramatic response. Mr. Mattis did prevail in limiting the strikes to three targets that didn`t risk endangering Russian troops scattered at military installation around Syria, but he was not able to persuade the president that he should get approval from Congress.
According to "The Times" tonight, quote, Mr. Mattis pushed to get congressional authorization, according to people with knowledge of the internal debate. In several White House meeting last week, he underscored the importance of linking military operations to public support, a view Mr. Mattis has long held. Until this time, Mr. Mattis had a buffer in the form of national security adviser, Lt. General H.R. McMaster, who often deferred to the defense secretary, a retired four-star marine general. The arrival of Mr. Trump`s new national security adviser John Bolton means that buffer is gone.
Again, this comes amid many signs in the White House that the arrival of John Bolton is changing the equation inside the White House, but "The New York Times" reporting tonight that Mattis told the president he need to get congressional approval for those strikes and the president said no.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: There`s been a lot of news breaking over the course of this evening, none more serious or sad than the news of the passing of former First Lady Barbara Bush. I noted earlier in the show that we had some statements from former president George W. Bush, former President Barack Obama, we also have a statement from President Trump and his wife.
President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump join the nation in celebrating the life of Barbara Bush. As a wife, mother, grandmother, military spouse and former first lady, Mrs. Bush was an advocate of the American family. Among her greatest achievements was recognizing the importance of literacy as a fundamental family value. She`ll be long remembered for her strong devotion to country and family, both of which she served unfailingly well. The president and first lady`s thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Mrs. Bush.
Statement out tonight from President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. I should mention the date on it is wrong, it says April 17, 2017, actually 2018. But other than that, there you have it.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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