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Mueller wants to question Trump on Comey firing. TRANSCRIPT: 04/30/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Adam Schiff

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 30, 2018 Guest: Adam Schiff

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.

You know how I always say, like, oh, we had a whole show planned and we just threw it out? I literally just threw out the show while I was in the makeup chair. And if you know anything about me, I don`t spend all that much time in the makeup chair.

But just a couple minutes before we were due to get on the air, "The New York Times" has just published a remarkable document. Michael Schmidt is the reporter at "The New York Times." The headline is: Mueller has dozens of inquiries for Trump in broad quest on Russia ties and obstruction.

Literally reading this off "The New York Times" Website right now because they have just published it. Thank you, Jackie, who`s just handed to me.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia`s election interference, has at least four dozen questions on an exhaustive array of subjects that he wants -- that he wants to ask President Trump. To learn more about Trump`s ties to Russia and determine whether Trump obstructed the inquiry itself, according to a list of the questions obtained by the "New York Times."

The open-ended queries appear to be an attempt to penetrate the president`s thinking to get at the motivation behind some of his most combative Twitter posts and to examine his relationships with his family and his closest advisers. They deal chiefly with the president`s high-profile firings of the FBI director and his first national security adviser. That would be James Comey and Mike Flynn. Also his treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But they also touch on the president`s businesses, discussions with his long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen about a Moscow real estate deal, whether the president knew of any attempt by Trump`s son-in-law Jared Kushner to set up a back channel to Russia during the transition. Any contacts he had with Roger Stone, a long-time adviser who claimed to have inside information about the Democratic e-mail hackings. Also, what happened during Mr. Trump`s trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant.

OK. So this is the scoop that is just now, just now being posted at "The Times." Most importantly, Michael Schmidt and the "New York Times" did not just obtain the questions or get a description of what the questions are that Mueller wants to ask the president. "The New York Times" has actually published the list of questions. It is according to -- at least four dozen questions.

As you can tell from the fact that I`m not looking at the camera very much, I am learning this as I am telling you about it. And so, I have not advance read these questions. I will tell you what they are, though.

All right. What Mueller wants to ask Trump? First, what did you know about phone calls that Mike Flynn made with the Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in late December 2016? Two, what was your reaction to news reports on January 12th, 2017, and February 8th and 9th, 2017?

Now, what that`s about is when the "Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius first revealed in January 2017 that Flynn had made those secret calls to the Russian ambassador. Mr. Ignatius questioned whether those conversations had violated the law prohibiting private citizens from attempting to undermine American policies. And then in February, the following month, 2017, "The Washington Post" revealed the true nature of Flynn`s conversations with Kislyak. Mr. Mueller wants to know, among other things, whether Trump feared that his national security adviser had broken the law and then tried to shield him from consequences.

So, again, the first question, Mr. Trump, what did you know about phone calls that Mike Flynn made with the Russian ambassador during the transition? What was your reaction to news reports about the content of those communications when those news reports came out in January and February 2017? Third question, what did you know about Sally Yates`s meetings about Mr. Flynn? You`ll remember Sally Yates was the acting attorney general for the first few weeks of the Trump administration. She came to the White House physically to warn the White House that Flynn had been lying about his secret communications with the Russian government.

So the question again to the president, what did you know about Sally Yates` meetings about Mr. Flynn? How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn, on February 13th, 2017? After the resignations -- what is this? After the resignations what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon? After the resignation. I`m not sure what that means.

That`s one of the questions listed here. After the resignations what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon? I don`t know what the "after the resignations" part of that is. But talking to Flynn about a potential pardon or immunity is obviously an obstruction of justice question.

All right. Questions related to James Comey. What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition? What did you think about Mr. Comey`s intelligence briefing on January 6th, 2017 about Russian election interference?

This is an intelligence briefing we`ve actually got quite a bit of insight into, in part because James Comey just wrote a book where he detailed that, right? That`s when American intelligence agencies, their conclusion that Russia had interfered in the election to try to help Trump, that was briefed to not only the president at the time, President Obama, but also to President-elect Donald Trump. This was also the moment when Mr. Comey briefed Mr. Trump about salacious allegations related to him from the so- called Steele dossier.

So, one question apparently that Mueller is going to ask Trump, what did you think about Mr. Comey`s intelligence briefing on January 6th, 2017, about Russian election interference? And then follow-up question, what was your reaction to Mr. Comey`s briefing that day about other intelligence matters? Other intelligence matters that we now know included that provocative information about Mr. Trump from the Steele dossier.

Further on Comey, what was the purpose of your January 27th, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said at that dinner? Similarly, what was the purpose of your February 14th, 2017 meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said at that meeting? What did you know about the FBI`s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey`s congressional testimony on March 20th, 2017? What did you do in reaction to the March 20th testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.

Now, what this is about is that there have been reports that the president asked other intelligence officials including the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the CIA director at the time, Mike Pompeo, that they should somehow pressure or intervene with the FBI to try to get the FBI to drop its investigation into Flynn and the Russia scandal.

So again, this is according to the "New York Times" tonight one of the questions that Mueller plans to or wants to ask the president, is they want him to describe his contact with intelligence officials after Comey`s bombshell congressional testimony in March, where he said that there is an active counterintelligence investigation into whether or not anyone in the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in its attack.

What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo, and Mr. Coats? This seems new. As noted here by Michael Schmidt in "The Times," it is not clear whether Mr. Mueller knows something specific about Trump`s reaction to these interviews. But the question shows that Mr. Mueller is keenly interested in how Trump responded to each step of his investigation. That is fascinating.

Another question, what was the purpose of your calls to Mr. Comey on March 30th and April 11th, 2017? What was the purpose of your April 11th, 2017 statement to Maria Bartiromo? Huh?

This is what "The Times" says about that. While the White House ultimately said Mr. Comey was fired for breaking with Justice Department policy and discussing the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, Mr. Trump expressed no such qualms in an interview with Maria Bartiromo of the Fox Business Network on April 11th, 2017. He said in that interview: Director Comey was very, very good to Hillary Clinton, that I can tell you. If he weren`t, she would be right now going to trial.

Clearly, that indicates that they`re trying to get to the president`s mindset there. If Comey was supposedly fired for mistreating Hillary Clinton, then why did you say that Comey was very good to Hillary Clinton?

What did you think and do about Mr. Comey`s May 3rd, 2017 testimony? In this Senate appearance, Mr. Comey described his handling of the Clinton appearance in detail. He was fired soon after. Mr. Mueller`s question suggests he wants to know why Mr. Trump soured on Mr. Comey.

Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey, when was it made? Why? Who played a role in that? What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10th, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?

That was famously the president`s remarks to two Russian government officials who he surprise hosted in the Oval Office the day after he fired Comey. In that meeting, we know the president told those Russian officials, quote, I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That`s taken off.

Mueller wants to ask the president what he meant by those remarks. Similarly, what did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia? Shortly after firing Mr. Comey even before the meeting with the Russians I believe Trump did that interview with Lester Holt in which he said that the Russia thing was on his mind when he fired Mr. Comey. Mueller wants to ask the president what he meant by that.

What was the purpose of your May 12th, 2017 tweet? That was -- oh, when Trump posted this tweet: James Comey better hope there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press. Mueller apparently wants to ask him, what was the purpose of that tweet?

You`ll remember that famously in response to that tweet, Mr. Comey said in congressional testimony, "Lordy, I hope there are tapes." We`ve never found out if there of our conversations

What did you think about Mr. Comey`s June 8th testimony regarding Mike Flynn, and what did you do about it? After he was fired, Mr. Comey testified about his conversations with Mr. Trump and described him as preoccupied with the FBI`s investigation into Russia. After the testimony, Trump called him a liar. Mueller wants to ask about that.

What was the purpose of the September and October 2017 statements, including tweets regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey? Mr. Trump did tweet, suggesting that Comey should be investigated. And the White House press secretary also made critical comments about Mr. Comey`s testimony. Mueller wants to ask about that. Quote, what is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy Andrew McCabe?

And then there are a number of questions that Mueller wants to ask the president about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions? What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?

Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you? Did you reference past attorneys general while doing so? What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?

"The Times" notes in a twist Mr. Mueller`s very appointment has become part of his investigation.

Question, why did you hold Jeff Sessions` resignation until May 31st, and with whom did you discuss it?

Now, the elaboration here is that Mr. Trump rejected the proffered resignation from attorney general Jeff Sessions. After the president criticized Jeff Sessions publicly, Mr. Sessions reportedly offered his resignation to the president. Mr. Trump rejected Sessions` resignation after aides argued it would only create more problems. The details of those discussions remain unclear, but Mr. Trump`s advisers have already given Mr. Mueller their accounts of the conversations, and now, Mueller apparently wants to ask why did you hold Sessions` resignation until the last day of May, and with whom did you discuss it? We didn`t know about that at all.

What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it? What discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?

What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions? That was public attacks he was making on sessions last summer.

And lastly, last section, campaign coordination with Russia. Last set of questions that Mueller apparently wants to ask the president according to this bombshell new report in the "New York Times" where they are not just reporting on and describing the questions that Mueller wants to ask the president, they are actually giving us the list.

Here`s the campaign coordination with Russia questions. Quote, when did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting? What involvement did you have in the communications strategy about that meeting, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.`s e-mails? During a 2013 trip to Russia, that would be Miss Universe, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and with Russian government officials?

Also, what communication did you have with Michael Cohen, Felix Sater, and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign? What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?

What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions? What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine? That would be the Republican national committee -- excuse me, Republican National Convention. The party platform about Ukraine and its relationship with Russia and Russia`s basically invasion of and accession of part of Ukraine. What involvement, Mueller wants to ask the president, did you have concerning that platform change to a more pro- Russia stance?

During the campaign what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign? What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? Hmm. I was just about to say this is an intriguing question.

"The Times" notes about this question, this is one of the most intriguing questions on the list. Say that one more time. What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?

I`ll tell you. This is intriguing to me because we`ve heard a lot about Russian officials and people related to the Russian government reaching out to the Trump campaign. This is -- the way this question is phrased, it sounds like this is an inquiry made in the opposite direction. The Trump campaign reaching toward Russia.

According to "The Times" tonight, quote, this is one of the most intriguing questions on the list. It`s not clear whether Mr. Mueller knows something new, but there`s no publicly available information linking Mr. Manafort, Trump`s former campaign chairman, to such outreach. So, his inclusion here is significant. It should also be noted that Manafort`s long-time colleague Rick Gates is cooperating with Mr. Mueller.

Again, that question is about whether there was outreach by the Trump campaign, including by Paul Manafort to Russia.

Four more questions. What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks? What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back channel communications to Russia and Jared Kushner`s efforts therein? What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince? And finally, what do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

So, 10 pages of questions that have been obtained by the "New York Times," reporter Michael Schmidt tonight, and published in "The Times" tonight. Just as I was sitting down to start the show. These are apparently -- these are reportedly the questions that Mueller is wanting to ask the president about. It remains an open question as to whether or not the president will sit for an interview with Mueller or will have any sort of other interaction with the special counsel`s office. That has obviously been a matter of some -- a lot of gnashing of teeth and some negotiation.

I don`t know what it means about -- I don`t know what we can extrapolate from these questions in terms of knowing whether or not this means the president is going to do this interview or whether this is Mueller allowing these questions to be reported because he knows the president isn`t going to sit this interview -- for this interview with his investigators and so, therefore the press should start answering -- should start asking the president for answers to these questions themselves.

Joining us now, because I`m a very lucky person, is Chuck Rosenberg. He`s a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, a former top aide to Robert Mueller. He has served in very senior positions in the Justice Department and the FBI.

Chuck Rosenberg, you are learning about these things as I do. I know you are not advance prepped on this.

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I was listening to you read them.

MADDOW: Let me just ask your top line reaction, if there`s anything particularly intriguing to you and what you make of the fact we have access to this.

ROSENBERG: Well, these are fascinating questions. I have a bunch of reactions, Rachel. One, we actually knew about a lot of this stuff from your reporting and the reporting of other very good folks in journalism. Two, clear to me from this document that the president is a subject. We had heard that before, but the types of questions, what did you know, why did you do this, how did you react, with whom else did you speak suggest to me that the president is clearly a subject.

MADDOW: A subject as opposed to just being a witness to other people`s behavior, which is under scrutiny.

ROSENBERG: And maybe it`s a good idea to go through those categories again. You can be a witness, somebody who merely sees something or hears something, but you have no criminal exposure. You can be a target at the far end of the spectrum, meaning you`re a putative defendant, someone likely to be charged with a crime. And then there`s that big broad middle category, subject, somebody whose conduct is within the scope of the investigation.

A third reaction, we`ve been talking generally about obstruction of justice as something that Mueller would undoubtedly look at. So many of these questions, so many of these topics relate to obstruction of justice, right? Why did you target Andy McCabe or Jim Comey? What were your conversations about Jeff Sessions` recusal?

All of those go to the heart of what did -- why did the president do what he did? Why did he make the comments he made? Why did he put out the tweets that he put out? To me this is really interesting.

Then a fourth --

MADDOW: Let me interject. Don`t lose your fourth point. But let me just ask you there. There`s a number of statements here that are phrased, you know, what was your opinion, what did you think about, what was your reaction to? You know, what was the purpose of this statement you that made to a reporter at the specific time?

If those questions are eventually posed to the president, the way they`re structured here, seems to me like they`re trying to get at the president`s state of mind because the president`s state of mind is a necessary component of any obstruction of justice charge.

ROSENBERG: Precisely.


ROSENBERG: And sort of a segue to my fourth point.


ROSENBERG: That is the hard thing to prove in an obstruction of justice case. What did Rachel Maddow intend to do with the actions that she took? And so, these questions go right to that intent issue, right?

Why was the president doing these things? What was his intended effect? Proving obstruction requires proof of intent to in some way interfere with the investigation. And many of these questions seem aimed at that.

Then I guess there`s a fifth reaction, which these are just topics really. They`re styled as questions, Rachel, but they`re really topics because any one of these topics could launch dozens and dozens of follow-up questions depending on what the president said. So, I imagine that what the Mueller team is doing here is giving a broad sort of topical outline to the president`s lawyers but by no means should anyone think that there`s just, you know, 40-some-odd questions.

MADDOW: Let me ask you about the process of how these things work. Obviously, questioning the president in a criminal or civil matter is not exactly like questioning anybody else and there are different types of negotiations that happen around making a president available for some sort of investigation like this.

But whether or not it`s a president, when you are trying to get -- arrange an interview, when you are approaching a broad complex investigation like this and you`ve got a high-stakes interview that you want to do, as the FBI or as Justice Department prosecutors pursuing this sort of thing, does it typically work this way, where prosecutors or the FBI produces the sort of known universe of things we`d like to ask about in advance before the interview happens?

ROSENBERG: Internally, sure. We write these things for ourselves. Do we hand it typically to the people we`re going to question? No. That`s unusual. I can`t think of a time that I did that in all of my years as a federal prosecutor.

But in probably every case I ever prosecuted when it got to the key witness, the agents and I would sit down and we would draw up a list of topics. We wanted to make sure we didn`t forget anything, and then we would have some number of documents or e-mails or bank records that we wanted to show in conjunction with the questions we wanted to ask.

The other thing you see here, and I think it`s also important, Rachel, is how many people they`ve obviously talked to before they talked to the president. And we`ve discussed this I think on your show and on others. You save your most important interviews for last. Why? Because you want to talk to everybody else in the entire universe before you talk to your ultimate witness, subject, whatever the case may be.

You can see strewn throughout this document lots and lots of names, Reince Priebus, Sally Yates, Andy McCabe, Jim Comey, Don McGahn, Coats, Pompeo -- all of these folks we should presume have been interviewed by the Mueller team. All of them gave the Mueller team their best recollection of what happened. Now, they`re going to test the president`s knowledge. Or at least they would like to test the president`s knowledge against stuff they`ve already learned.

MADDOW: I hear you saying that you would prepare a document like, this a sort of road map to questions, for an important interview. And you`d use it as an internal document as a prosecutor or as an FBI, that`s right, as part of an FBI investigation.

Would you -- do you ever give an important subject or witness interview a sense of the scope of the questioning so that they can prepare, so that -- so you might say listen, we want you to come in, we want to talk to you about this general field of inquiry? You would do that.

ROSENBERG: Sure. Under certain circumstances, perhaps I would sit down with defense counsel. Not -- probably not with the person I wanted to interview but with --

MADDOW: With their lawyers.

ROSENBERG: With their lawyers.


ROSENBERG: And say, look, here`s a bunch of documents I expect we`re going to ask your client about. Here are some broad topics that he or she ought to be prepared on. That wouldn`t be atypical.


ROSENBERG: But again, typically this type of thing would be an internal document. It strikes me as probably a courtesy to the president and his lawyers in advance of any potential interview.

MADDOW: It seems to me like this is -- and this is just me spitballing. It seems to me that this is either a courtesy to the president and to his legal team in advance of a planned interview, or this indicates that there`s not going to be an interview and the special counsel is allowing this stuff to be reported because I think they can pretty much control that. They`re not a very leaky bunch. So that we all know, the public, what questions they believe the president should have had to ask in this matter -- should have had to answer in this matter.

ROSENBERG: And they have to someday in some form. But you`re quite right. The Mueller team may not get a chance to interview the president.


ROSENBERG: But if they did, you can see what`s really on their mind.

MADDOW: One of the questions here that`s listed in the general area of questions related to Mike Flynn, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon. As far as I understand it, the president`s pardon authority is almost unchecked. The president can pardon anybody for anything on his own terms for any way that he wants to.

ROSENBERG: That`s right.

MADDOW: Why would it be legally appropriate for the special counsel`s office, the FBI, to be asking about discussions that the president might have had with Flynn about a possible pardon?

ROSENBERG: Can I give you an analogy?


ROSENBERG: It`s perfectly OK for the president to decide you ought to be the ambassador to the United Kingdom, right? You`re qualified, you`re bright, you`re engaging. You`re all the things we would want in an ambassador.

He has complete authority to nominate you, but not in return for a million dollars in cash, right? And so, even though he has the authority to do it, what still matters to me and to prosecutors is why. Was it for some corrupt reason? So, even an act which he has almost complete authority for could be a corrupt act if done in return for something else. Maybe your money to become ambassador. Maybe General Flynn`s silence in return for that gift of a pardon.

MADDOW: Hypothetically. Speaking hypothetically, if you offered somebody a pardon or spoke with them suggestively about the possibility of a pardon before that person was going to give testimony that might affect you or something like that, that could be an improper use of the pardon authority.

ROSENBERG: Stay strong. I have your back if you have my back. I think that would be an improper use of the pardon authority.

MADDOW: Let me ask you about one of these other questions here that I just -- I don`t -- it`s a new topic for me, as somebody who`s covered this scandal intensively. What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Admiral Mike Rogers, head of the NSA, Mike Pompeo, head of the CIA, and Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence?

We had previously known that the NSA, CIA, and DNI, their leadership had all been interviewed by Mueller. Why would Mueller want to ask the president about what he thought about and did in reaction to news that those interviews had taken place?

ROSENBERG: Right. Well, I think we have to back up a little bit. For instance, we have reporting including from Jim Comey that the president reached out to him to say Flynn`s a good guy, you might want to consider dropping this, you should go easy on him, right? So if he had a similar conversation with other people, Pompeo, Coats, and others, or had a reaction to conversations he had with other people and shared that reaction with folks in the White House, absolutely of interest to prosecutors.

Why? It also goes to intent. What was the president thinking at the time that these conversations took place? Did he tell anybody to do anything about it? That`s why I think these, Rachel, are really topics rather than questions. I can imagine each one conceivably taking a very long time to get through.

MADDOW: As I said, we threw the show away because this story broke as I was sitting down to start this hour. Chuck Rosenberg, somebody who is learning this along with me and is incredibly clear and cogent given the fact that you`re absorbing this in real time -- thank you.

ROSENBERG: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

MADDOW: I really appreciate you doing it on zero notice. Chuck Rosenberg, former senior DOJ and FBI official. Also former U.S. attorney and somebody I was very lucky was in the building tonight when this story broke.

All right. Again, the breaking news right now, a remarkable turn in the story. "The New York Times" has not just obtained, they have published a list of some four dozen questions that the special counsel`s office is positing to the sitting president of the United States. We do not know whether the president will consent to answer these questions in a formal interview setting. We don`t know the circumstances of how the story broke and these questions were made public tonight.

But we do know that Michael Schmidt at "The New York Times" is the way we got this information and Michael Schmidt joins us live next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: "The New York Times" has an incredible scoop tonight.

Reporter Michael Schmidt has obtained a list of some four dozen questions that the special counsel`s office, that Robert Mueller wants to pose to the president. We`ve had a lot of discussion, a lot of punditry, a lot of speculation about whether and when the president would submit himself for questioning by Robert Mueller and his prosecutors. We still don`t know if or when the president will do that.

But we now know, thanks to Michael Schmidt at "The New York Times," what Mr. Mueller and his prosecutors want to ask the president if they do get the chance to ask him anything. Joining us now, Michael Schmidt, "The New York Times" reporter who broke this story.

Mike, congratulations on this -- on this scoop.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (via telephone): Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: We don`t have additional information as far as I can tell from your reporting tonight about whether the president is going to sit for an interview. Is that correct?

SCHMIDT: The president`s gone back and forth about whether he wants to do this. I believe more recently, this is something he realizes he has to do to bring an end to the investigation. That`s why they brought Rudy Giuliani on, to negotiate terms to have the interview, because they believe that needs to happen in order for it to be concluded.

MADDOW: In terms of the list of questions that you obtained tonight, have these been given to the president`s lawyers as a to-do list? Is this something they`d like the president and his legal team to answer, either written questions or some other form of submission, or is this a road map for what they expect to be a sit-down interview if they can get it?

SCHMIDT: Let me explain how these questions came about. There have been a lot of negotiations that have gone on between Trump`s folks and Mueller`s folks. In March, it got a little contentious and Mueller`s office offered to have the president`s lawyers come in and be told the questions that they wanted to ask them.

So, the president`s lawyers went in. They met with Mueller`s investigators and they went through subject after subject after subject that they wanted to answer -- they wanted questions -- to ask about. And what the president`s lawyers did is they wrote down all of these things and they came up with these 49 questions. These are the 49 things that Mueller wants to ask the president.

And they looked at these 49 questions, and for at least some of the president`s lawyers, they said, we cannot allow him to be interviewed, these are too invasive, they`re getting at mindset, it`s getting at intent, this is -- this is too much, we think it`s a bad idea to allow him to go in for an interview.

MADDOW: So, the president`s lawyers` reaction to being essentially briefed by Mueller`s prosecutors on this list of questions was oh, no, these are not questions we can allow the president to answer, if this is what they want to ask they shouldn`t get him?

SCHMIDT: You have to look at the larger timeline then of what happened. John Dowd was a big hawk against letting the president sit down for an interview. Two weeks after they get these questions, less than two weeks after they get these questions, John Dowd quits the team because the president is not going to listen to his advice not to do the interview. John Dowd saw the interview as highly problematic, and he was not going to be the lawyer that allowed that to happen.

MADDOW: OK. Mike, can I also ask you in terms of your understanding of the import of these questions. You`ve written these up with Matt Apuzzo with some annotation in terms of what each of these questions might mean or what they might be referencing, which is absolutely invaluable. And there`s one toward the end of the list that you describe as one of the most intriguing questions on the list. I absolutely agree with you. I wonder if you know what this is getting at.

The question is, what knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign including Paul Manafort to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? That strikes me as a brand new concept. We`ve heard a lot about Russians and Russian cutouts reaching out to the Trump campaign to try to make contact for some reason or another.

This is the first implication. This is the first place I`ve seen it implied that that communication also went the other direction. Am I right to read it that way?

SCHMIDT: Correct. We don`t know anything more than that, though. That is the only thing we had in the notes there, was that specific thing in a reference to Manafort. We don`t know.

There had been some talk about Manafort offering to give a Russian oligarch a briefing on the campaign. We don`t believe that is this. This seems like something different about trying to reach out to Russia for help for the campaign.

But we do not know anything more than what we have put out there online and in our annotated version of this, where we try and answer and lay out the significance of these questions and what we know on the public record about them, at least up until now.

MADDOW: I`ll ask you a similar question, just if you have any further context or elaboration you can give us about this question. What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to the head of the NSA, Mike Rogers, the head of the CIA Mike Pompeo and the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats?

I think we had known previously that all three of those men had been interviewed by the special counsel as part of this investigation. This implies there`s something of interest to the special counsel`s office about the president doing something in reaction to those interviews. I`m not sure if you can shed any more light.

SCHMIDT: That stood out at me as well, when I saw that -- we`d been looking at this story for so long, the narratives pile up. That was something I did not know anything about, which was, was there something the president had done in reaction to the fact that they were going in to be interviewed? Implying we don`t know, was -- you know, had the president reached out to them or reached out to other people because of it? That was a new area.

A lot of the questions in here are obvious things that if folks sat down who`d been following the story had come up with. But that was something that stood out as something new and different. What also struck us about this is the number of obstruction questions there are. It`s -- there`s more than half of them are obstruction questions.

And it`s just an interesting thing. The story`s been -- the president`s been in office for 15 months. The Russia investigation has almost been going on for two years.

What started as an investigation into Russia`s meddling in the election and ties between his campaign and Russia is now largely, at least with the president`s conduct, focused on what he did in office. So many questions about that. There`s four major topics in there, and three of them are about obstruction.

MADDOW: Michael Schmidt, "New York Times" reporter who broke this remarkable story tonight and published these questions. Thank you, Michael, and again, congratulations on this. I really appreciate you making time to talk to us about it.

SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Again, "The New York Times" publishing a list of 49 questions that the special counsel`s office is positing sounds like to the president`s legal team in terms of what they want to ask him. This does not mean that the president will do an interview, but this is a remarkable window into what they believe the president should have to answer.

I should also tell you that as is their wont, special counsel is not commenting on this report tonight from the "New York Times". Special counsel`s office was commented for comment -- commented for comment -- contacted for comment by the "New York Times" tonight. Special counsel`s office did not respond to requests for comment. Also, Jay Sekulow, who`s a lawyer for Mr. Trump, declined to comment on these.

If you`d listen closely to that live interview we just did with Michael Schmidt there, it seems that this -- these questions, this list of 49 questions derived the way he described his reporting process, seems to have derived from discussions between the special counsel`s office and Trump`s lawyers. We don`t know from the special counsel`s office whether or not they, you know, stand by this list, and these are in fact their questions. We don`t know if this is their complete list or if there might be other questions they want to answer -- they want the president to answer as well.

But again, a remarkable coup tonight for "The Times" to have obtained this. And now, we await sort of confirmation that this is where they`re going and what the president`s going to do about it.

All right. Much more ahead here tonight. Top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee joins us with his reaction to this bombshell news.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Still absorbing this breaking news tonight from "The New York Times," which has just published 49 questions that have reportedly been posed from the special counsel`s office to the legal team for President Trump. This is being described as the list of things that the Mueller investigators want to ask President Trump. Let me -- in terms of the context here, we just spoke with Michael Schmidt, who`s the reporter who broke this story tonight.

In Schmidt`s story tonight, he does give you a little back story in terms of where this comes from, which may give us some hint as to the exact -- I mean, he`s not going to talk to us about his sources, but it may give us some hint as to where this came from.

From the story tonight, Mr. Mueller has sought for months to question the president. His lawyers have been negotiating terms of an interview out of concern that their client could provide false statements or easily become distracted. Four people have pled guilty already to lying to investigators in the Russia inquiry. But this list of questions grew out of those negotiations.

Here`s the timeline: In January, so January 2018, Trump`s lawyers gave Mr. Mueller several pages of written explanations about the president`s role in the matters the special counsel is investigating. Concerned about putting the president in legal jeopardy, his lead lawyer John Dowd was trying to convince Mr. Mueller he didn`t need to interview Mr. Trump.

So, here, we`ll just write up how innocent he is. You`re good with that, right?

Quote: Mr. Mueller was apparently unsatisfied. He told Mr. Dowd in early March that he needed to question the president directly to determine whether the president had criminal intent when he fired the FBI Director James Comey. But Mr. Dowd held firm. And then investigators for Mueller agreed days later to share during a meeting with Mr. Dowd the questions they wanted to ask Mr. Trump.

So, Dowd is like you don`t need to interview him. Mueller`s like yes, we do. They`re negotiating back and forth and finally at a meeting with Dowd and Trump`s -- and Mueller`s investigators, all right, here`s the questions we`re going to want to ask. When Mr. Mueller`s team relayed the questions, their tone and detailed nature cemented John Dowd`s view that the president should not sit for an interview.

We don`t know if this is John Dowd`s notes on what the president is reportedly going to be asked by Mr. Mueller. But that origin story in "The times" story, it does give us some sense of where this -- of where this might have come from. And you also have to think, you know, well, why does somebody want this to be made public? You don`t usually make your questions public in advance of a big important interview. That said, when it`s a president these negotiations can go on for a long time and they can be very hard-nosed negotiations and when your lead lawyer quits in the middle of those negotiations, who knows what ends up in "The New York Times" later on?

Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff. He is the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the House.

Congressman Schiff, I`m very happy to have you with us tonight. Thank you very much for being here.


MADDOW: I don`t know if you`ve had a chance yet to look at "The Times`" story and these questions that they`ve reported.

SCHIFF: Yes. I sure have.

MADDOW: What strikes you?

SCHIFF: Well, a couple things.

One, something your guests have already analyzed, and that is just how many of these questions go to the issue of obstruction of justice. But also these are really, as Chuck was saying earlier, these are less questions, they`re more topics. You can imagine, for example, on any single one of them, a question about what did you discuss with the Russians in the oval office, for example, I think that was one of the questions.

That would just be the beginning. How did that meeting come about? Who brought up the issue of James Comey? If you brought it up, why did you bring it up?

What was the Russians` reaction? What was your reaction to what the Russians said? Who else was in the room? What decisions did you make or instruct staff about whether the contents of that meeting would be kept confidential?

Each of those is going to lead to any number -- a series of questions. I think these are topic and subtopic areas. But one of the things that leapt out at me was what was not included within the list. I want this special counsel to be looking at the issue of money laundering.

And I don`t recall seeing questions there about did you obtain financing for your projects from Russia? What were your relations if any with Russian sources of financing? What do you know about where money went through Trump properties, through Deutsch Bank? Were there any Russian guarantees of your loans?

Those questions are not included. Does that mean that the special counsel is observing the red line the president has tried to draw? In my view, the president is not permitted to draw a red line and anything that might be compromising of our national security is something that needs to be investigated if they`re credible allegations. So what was not on the list to me was also striking.

MADDOW: On Friday, you and your fellow Democrats on the Intelligence Committee released a 90-something-page report that was essentially a response to the majority, the Republicans on the intelligence committee releasing what they say is their final report on the Russia investigation. I understand that your report is not final, that you may yet release further information as you come to additional conclusions and turn up new stuff.

But you mention there financing. One of the things that really struck me as new in the information that you and your fellow Democrats released on Friday was an e-mail from Felix Sater, I believe, who was a Trump organization associate for some time that was about the financing for Trump Tower Moscow, which is being pursued by the campaign. The financing being arranged, being in process with VTB bank, second largest bank in Russia, obviously a sanctioned bank that U.S. persons and businesses shouldn`t be legally able to do business with.

When I read that in your report that came out Friday night, that struck me as new and potentially important. Has that been previously reported or are you releasing that information for the first time?

SCHIFF: I don`t think the specifics have been previously reported. And yes, here`s an effort with Felix Sater to obtaining financing for this long, elusive project, the project that Trump is dreaming about for sometime, the Trump Tower in Moscow, and they`re going to get the financing from a bank that`s under sanctions. And in that same e-mail where they talk about getting financing from this bank, they also Felix Sater says, we`ll be working on the letter of intent which comes the following month.

So, other parts of what he is relating in that e-mail are proven out within the next month. So, it seems very credible that this is what`s going on. It`s also part of the questions I know that were on that list of the special counsel.

And there are other questions, too, that we reveal additional facts about in terms of what went into the Trump Tower meeting. Information that we know about Veselnitskaya, about phone calls going back and forth between Don Junior and Emin Agalarov and this blocked call that we would like to know whether it was from or to the president and in this case, was an incoming call. Was this information or a green light the president was giving to the meeting? And Mueller has obviously included on his list, what did you know about the Trump Tower meeting? What was your role in crafting that false statement?

So, we do include some new information. But you`re absolutely right, Rachel. We`re not done. We`re going to continue investigating. Our investigation thus far is in midstream, not the least bit complete and we`re going to be reporting additional information to the public.

MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, thank you very much for joining us tonight, sir.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: What you`re talking about in terms of the report that came out on Friday night, I`m going to have you back in the next couple days if I can to go through some of that stuff line by line. Thank you, sir.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

MADDOW: What Congressman Schiff was just saying there about these questions from Mueller`s investigators, the special counsel team it does include a bunch of questions about the Trump Tower meeting. But again, as we`d just absorbed this over the course of this hour, "The New York Times" breaking this list of 49 questions that are apparently been posed to the president`s legal team. The one that still really sticks out for me, what knowledge did you, President Trump, what knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? What is that about?

We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: So, "The New York Times" is out tonight with a list of 49 questions that special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly wants to ask President Trump in the Russia investigation, which means as of tonight, we`ve now got a list of 49 things that Robert Mueller wants to know from the president about the Russia investigation.

But in the midst of that very big breaking news story, I need to tell you the White House tonight just did something astonishingly dangerous. That was going to be our lead story tonight before the "New York Times" broke this other story. Since we have been on the air in the last hour, the White House has now taken it back. This astonishingly dangerous thing they did and they described what they did as a mistake. Oops.

I`ll tell you what happened even with them dialing it back when we come back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: The White House tonight released a surprise statement showing exactly why so many people were freaked out about John Bolton being national security advisor. We really didn`t know where this was coming from but in a short statement sent out after close of business tonight, the White House declared, quote, Iran has a robust clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people. And they recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

In case you`re having wrong (INAUDIBLE) -- the last time John Bolton was in circulation at high levels of the national security apparatus of the U.S. government, the U.S. government lied and said Iraq had a clandestine nuclear weapons program and that`s in part why the U.S. needed to start the Iraq war. Well, now, the White House released this surprise statement saying Iran has a secret clandestine nuclear weapons program that the U.S. knows all about. What? The White House appeared to be hinging this on public remarks about Iran made today by the prime minister of Israel but the prime minister of Israel today did not say that Iran has a current clandestine nuclear weapons program.

So, remarkable, remarkable statement tonight from the president -- from the White House, almost sounding like we were declaring war on Iran. But then tonight, just a few minutes ago, the White House updated that statement they made on Iran. Oops.

Now they say Iran had a nuclear weapons program, had, not has. Back then, not now. Oops.

Honestly, I`m not kidding you, this hour, a White House official told NBC News that this was a clerical error. You didn`t know they had clerks, did you? No word yet on how this happened in the first place, but, boy, howdy, is that one robust clerical error, the White House sort of declaring war on Iran tonight before, oops, taking this back. How did that happen?

This is what people thought the John Bolton era would be like in any White House.

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.