Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 1, 2018 Guest: Carol Leonnig
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That is "ALL IN" for this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you very much, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. I don`t even really need to say it, right? You already know. You can say it with me now. We had a whole show planned, all sorts of different stuff, guests booked, interviews researched. And then new news broke just before show time. We had to throw it all -- yes.
Are you tired of winning yet? Ahem. This happens a lot. It`s not happened twice in two nights, which might be the kind of record I`m not interested in breaking.
Last night, it was "The New York Times" with this story which they posted literally as I sat down in my chair to start the show. This story, I was reading it out loud on air for the first time, which was nerve wracking and exciting in its own way. What "The Times" published last night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern was a list of nearly 50 questions that special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly wants to ask the president in the Russia scandal, if he ever gets the president to sit down for an interview in that matter.
Now, according to "The Times" last night, that list was based on information that was relayed to the president`s legal team during a meeting between Mueller`s office and the president`s legal team in March. The president`s lawyers took notes during that session about what Mueller and his prosecutors wanted to ask the president. And that is how that list of 49 questions came to be. "The Times" published it last night. It gave us the widest window we have yet had into the president`s potential personal legal liability and how he figures into the special counsel investigation and the Russia scandal more broadly.
We`re still sort of absorbing the news in terms of the implications of the content of those questions. We`ll have more on that tonight, including one potential real problem for the president in terms of his own relationship with his own legal team. So, there`s more on that ahead tonight. Still from that story that "The New York Times" posted last night at 9:00 p.m.
But now, there`s more. Just within the last few minutes, "The Washington Post" has published their own stop the presses scoop, which is that Robert Mueller and his prosecutors in the special counsel`s office, they have warned the president`s legal team that they are ready to subpoena the president, meaning they are ready to force the president to testify, even if he does not want to, or at least they want to try that in the courts, they are prepared to do so if they think they need to.
"Washington Post`s" Carol Leonnig and Robert Costa are the reporters on this new story that has just broken. Here`s the lead of their story. Quote: In a tense meeting in early March with the special counsel, President Trump`s lawyers insisted he had no obligation to talk with federal investigators probing Russia`s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. However, special counsel Robert Mueller responded that he had another option if Trump declined to speak with his investigators.
Mueller warned that he could issue a subpoena for the president to appear before a grand jury. Mueller`s warning, the first time he`s known to have mentioned a possible subpoena to Trump`s legal team, spurred a sharp retort from John Dowd, who was then the president`s lead lawyer on the Russia matter. Dowd reportedly said, quote, this isn`t some game. You are screwing with the work of the president of the United States.
"The Post" continues, in the wake of the March 5th meeting, Mueller`s team agreed to provide the president`s lawyers with more specific information about the subjects that prosecutors wished to discuss with the president. With these details in hand, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow compiled a list of 49 questions that the team believed the president would be asked. So, that`s whose notes were the source of the 49 questions that were posted -- that were published last night in "The New York Times."
Jay Sekulow`s notes. He compiled a list of 49 questions that he believed and that the president`s legal team believed Mueller`s prosecutors wanted to ask the president. And we get further detail on that. Specifically, Mueller`s investigators laid out 16 specific subjects they wanted to review with the president. They added a few topics within each one.
Sekulow then broke the queries down into 49 separate questions, according to people familiar with the process. Quote, the president and several advisers now plan to point to the list as evidence that Mueller has strayed beyond his mandate and is overreaching. Quote, he wants to hammer that, according to a person who spoke to the president on Monday.
Another Trump adviser tells "The Washington Post," quote, Mueller is in Kenny Starr territory now.
Kenny? Is that you?
When it comes to Kenneth Starr, though, "The Post" notes that Kenneth Starr did subpoena President Bill Clinton for grand jury testimony in 1998, but Starr ended up withdrawing that subpoena after Clinton instead agreed to testify voluntarily. The issue of a presidential subpoena for testimony has therefore not been tested in court. Should Robert Mueller seek to compel President Trump`s testimony using a subpoena, a legal battle could ensue that could delay the investigation. It could also force the issue into the courts, potentially to the Supreme Court.
So again, "The Washington Post" has just broken this story. Mueller and his team apparently threatening that they believe they have the option of subpoenaing President Trump to testify in the Russia scandal even if he does not want to. Again, "The Post" helpfully noting that whatever Trump`s advisers and legal team think might be legal precedent, this is very much an untested matter in the courts.
I should also add, since "The Washington Post" published this tonight, since they posted this on their website, NBC News has reached out to John Dowd, the president`s former lawyer, who according to two people who spoke to "The Washington Post", said to the special counsel in the March meeting, what is the quote again, this isn`t some game, you are screwing with the work of the president of the United States.
Tonight, NBC news has reached John Dowd to comment on this new report in "The Washington Post." In a brief e-mail with NBC News tonight regarding this new "Post" story, Mr. Dowd referred questions about it to the president`s current legal team. But then he said, quote, I think it is right, meaning he believes the substance of this "Washington Post" report tonight is true even though he`s going to leave it, beyond that, for the president`s existing Russia lawyers to comment further.
Jay Sekulow is still one of the president`s lawyers. He tells NBC News tonight, quote, we do not discuss conversations we have or have not had with the office of the special counsel.
Joining us now is "Washington Post" reporter Carol Leonnig, who broke this story at "The Post."
Carol, thank you for joining us tonight and congratulations once again on a big scoop.
CAROL LEONNIG, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Thanks, Rachel. It`s good to be here.
MADDOW: I am extrapolating from one word in your report which is "warning", that the special counsel -- that the character of this consultation between the special counsel`s office and the president`s lawyers was essentially a warning, that this was the special counsel saying that they believe it`s within their right and within their legal capability to compel the president to testify. Is there a difference of opinion legally between the president`s lawyers and the special counsel`s office as to whether or not that`s true as a matter of law?
LEONNIG: I think there`s a little bit of bravado, Rachel, honestly, about the legal ability of bob Mueller to subpoena the president. Of course he can subpoena the president. The ultimate question is whether or not he`ll be successful in subpoenaing, forcing his testimony.
And I think that what you see in this March 5th meeting and in the standoff that my colleague Bob Costa and I describe is that both sides were kind of plucking around each other, trying to say, hey, we may not have our guy sit down, and the other guy goes, hey, maybe we`ll subpoena him then.
And ultimately, there`s some negatives for both sides if this happens. If they go to the Supreme Court, it`s going to take bob Mueller a long time to get the president`s firsthand account of why he took the actions he did. And if they subpoena him, it`s going to take a long time for President Trump to get the specter of the Russia collusion investigation behind him as he repeatedly claims he would like to do.
MADDOW: You also report tonight, Carol, that the White House approach to this as sort of a PR matter, as a political matter beyond just a legal matter, is that they want to use the existence of these 49 reported questions that Jay Sekulow has divined from this discussion with the special counsel`s office in terms of what they think the president might face in terms of questioning from the special counsel`s office, they want to use that list to make a public case, a political case that Robert Mueller and his prosecutors are asking about too broad a range of topics, that they are asking about subjects they shouldn`t be asking about.
Is it clear that that is a cogent and integrated approach from the president`s legal team where they`re actually working on this in an integrated way with the White House? We`ve sometimes seen the president and his lawyers and the White House and the president`s lawyers on different pages in terms of how they should approach this issue.
LEONNIG: Absolutely. There was so much tension in March about whether or not the president should sit down for an interview. You may remember, we wrote a story in which John Dowd basically said, absolutely not, we should not put the president in any criminal jeopardy of making a false statement and exposing himself to that. And several other people who advised the president, including White House counsel employee Ty Cobb, was saying, you want to put this behind you, let`s sit down for an interview.
So, there is not always a left hand and a right hand knowing what the other is doing or agreeing with what the other is doing. As for the political machinations behind this, it`s clear that many people are taking their cue from the president himself. This is a president who believes you litigate this on television, who believes that this is a case you can win or lose in your PR. And so, some people argue that it`s a great way to say he`s off the reservation, this is a Ken Starr investigation, it started with collusion, and now it`s into Stormy Daniels, and whether or not Manafort did X, Y, Z.
But that`s usually not how a judge or a court will see a case and decide whether or not your testimony is legally required.
MADDOW: Carol, I hear you on that, and it resonates as absolutely true with me that a lot of people, especially over the course of the last year since President Trump has been president, people around him who might have other -- who might with some other leader have sort of given their counsel and given their advice and thought things out with the president being the ultimate decider, in this case, with this president, it seems like people more try to take their cues from him rather than try to win their argument in front of him. I feel like we`ve seen that, we`ve learned that about the way this White House operates.
And I have to ask about the president making this assertion online today that there are no questions from the special counsel for him about collusion in Russia. The president says stuff on Twitter that sometimes pushes the envelope a little bit. This seems strange, after "The New York Times" last night published this list of 49 questions more than a dozen of which were about potential contacts between his campaign and Russia during the campaign, which is -- that`s the collusion question, the president is asserting that those questions don`t exist, that that line of questioning doesn`t exist.
I have to ask if that makes it hard to follow his lead in terms of running a legal strategy in this matter.
LEONNIG: Well, I don`t know if it`s so much a legal strategy as a PR strategy. But let`s break open your smart question, Rachel, which is, the questions that focus on collusion and the president`s claim that no questions have to do with collusion. So, everyone`s got their own different interpretation, and even today, in our reporting, Bob and I were struck by how the goalpost keeps moving about what "no collusion" means.
For example, some people who represent the president and/or advocate for him have been telling us for a long time there was absolutely no collusion, no evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign. That`s now slowly changed to, there`s absolutely no collusion involving the president. It`s a slight shift but it leaves out a lot of people.
There`s also the argument that the president makes about what is the definition of collusion. Although I don`t think he`s said it exactly this way, he has said in an extended format, especially to close friends of his, that he views collusion as basically like a kind of treasonous bargain with the Russian state, like active measures, engaged with them, and a conspiracy to defraud your country is not always exactly that way. For example, the crime here is the Russians who hacked e-mails, stole then, and used them to influence a campaign, used them to sow doubt and change the way in which voters would respond.
And the crime may have had participants. We don`t know everything about those participants. There doesn`t seem to be any evidence suggesting that the president was a participant in the hack. But we don`t know everything about his campaign and his aides and what he knew about what his campaign and his aides were also doing.
MADDOW: Right. And if he knew, did he authorize it implicitly or explicitly and how does that change any potential liability in that matter.
Carol Leonnig, "Washington Post" reporter who broke the story tonight with her colleague Bob Costa, thank you so much for joining us on short notice, and congratulations again, Carol. It`s always great to have you here.
LEONNIG: Of course.
MADDOW: All right. I want to bring into the conversation now somebody who understands the legal part of this better than I do. How big a deal of it is this news from "The Washington Post" tonight that the president is now essentially being threatened by the special counsel`s office that he may face a subpoena in the Russia investigation?
Joyce Vance is a former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama and she understands these things even when I definitely do not.
Joyce, thank you very much for being here tonight. I really appreciate you making the time.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Not a problem, Rachel.
MADDOW: What is the legal precedent here? It seems like there`s an implicit tension in what "The Washington Post" is reporting, that the special counsel`s office is telling the president`s lawyers, hey, we have the option to subpoena the president, he can tell us he`s not going to testify but we can make him.
And it sounds like the president`s lawyers are comfortable with the fact that -- or comfortable with the idea that the special counsel doesn`t have that power even if they want to try to exert it. Is there legal clarity on this?
VANCE: There is clarity to this extent. The Justice Department does have the ability to subpoena a target. Whether that`s true when the president is either a subject or a target of an investigation is uncharted territory. And it would have to be -- really the answer could only come on appeal, which as Carol points out, could be a somewhat time-consuming process but also politically a costly process for a sitting president.
MADDOW: If this did become a legal fight, if this did go to the courts, with Mueller`s team saying we can compel the president`s testimony, the president`s lawyers saying, no, you can`t, it goes to the appellate courts, is this the sort of thing that the Supreme Court might fast track the way they did for example in Bush v. Gore where we didn`t wait for it to win its way through the court, the Supreme Court just grabbed it and decided?
VANCE: So it`s hard to predict. But one suspects it would be fast tracked. And Mueller has on his team one of the most experienced practitioners of criminal law in front of the Supreme Court. So, he is fully loaded to take on this kind of issue expeditiously.
MADDOW: Is there any advice or precedent that the Supreme Court itself has to follow in terms of whether or not it takes something up on an expedited matter?
VANCE: There`s not -- in many courts, matters will be taken on an expedited basis when it serves the interests of justice. Here, this could either go on the usual tort appellate track or they could make a decision to bring it along quickly. One suspects with the whole country hanging, they would find a track that would allow it to resolve more quickly than it ordinarily would.
MADDOW: Joyce, we`ve had these two big scoops that the news gods decided to dump right at 9:00 p.m., right as I was going on the air, two nights in a row.
VANCE: I feel so bad for you, Rachel, I`m so sorry.
MADDOW: No reason to feel bad. I mean, there is reason to invest in some sort of hypothetical betting on the prospect of me having a lot of ulcers in the future, I think that would be a smart thing to do.
But if you take these two stories together, and they both seem to derive from this early March meeting between the president`s legal team and the special counsel, these stories are, A, there are more than a dozen topics that the special counsel`s office wants to ask the president. From the perspective of at least one of the president`s Russia lawyers, those topics can break down into nearly 50 individual questions themselves that are -- and each of those 50 individual questions itself could be broken down even further in terms of follow-ups and more detailed answers.
And then we`ve got this reported news that in that same meeting, part of what was discussed was the prospect of the president might be forced to testify in these matters, even if he doesn`t want to. If you take that all together, what`s your sense of the kind of legal jeopardy the president is facing now in the special counsel investigation? If you were the president`s lawyer or if you were the president, would you feel good or bad about your prospects now compared to how you might have felt in the past?
VANCE: If he was anyone other than the president, I`d be deeply worried. Because he`s the president, we have this ambiguous question of whether he can ever be indicted. But just because he can`t be indicted wouldn`t mean that if this evidence really is as significant as it looks from the questions, that he wouldn`t face obviously a proceeding on the hill.
But, Rachel, something that jumps out at me is what it took for Mueller to have the ability to raise the issue of subpoenaing the president. That means that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is in charge and who oversees this investigation, would have had to authorize the use of a subpoena against the president of the United States. And that tells you that this evidence has been carefully reviewed.
This is not a step that they would have taken lightly. They would have considered whether the evidence was available from other sources, whether it was critical to the investigation. They would have considered privilege issues. And then they would have made a very serious decision that ultimately they were entitled to subpoena the president if he declined to voluntary testify.
MADDOW: Wow. Just to underscore that point and make sure I understand, do you think that the special counsel`s office would have to ask for clearance from Rod Rosenstein, even to raise the prospect of a subpoena with the president`s legal team? Or would they only need that permission, and that review from him, that oversight from him, when it came to the point of actually signing off on the subpoena?
VANCE: Prosecutors never threaten to take an action that they can`t take. So, for this to even come up in this kind of a tense setting, the issue would have been fully vetted inside of the department. And that tells me that Mueller and Rosenstein would have had this conversation in advance of this March meeting. It`s a little bit concerning that this information leaks out now on the same timeline where we hear there`s some activity on the Hill that`s designed to impeach or censure Rosenstein. And one has to wonder whether that`s a part of (AUDIO GAP).
MADDOW: Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama -- Joyce, thank you very much. Sometimes on this show, you feel like, as you`re having a conversation with somebody, not only are you learning something but you`re realizing, like, oh, I`m going to looking at the internet machine tomorrow and that exchange I just had with Joyce Vance is going to be everywhere, all day. That was revelatory.
And what she just said about Rod Rosenstein and what must be his involvement at this point, that is actually the subject of our next story tonight.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Ninety days ago, federal prosecutors working under Robert Mueller in the special counsel`s office and the defense lawyers working for Mike Flynn, Trump`s national security adviser, they made a joint filing with the federal court in D.C. The Mueller prosecutors and Flynn`s defense team together asked the judge in Flynn`s case to please delay the sentencing of Mike Flynn by 90 days. They did that 90 days ago.
Well, today Mueller`s prosecutors and Flynn`s defense team went back again, also in a joint filing, to the same court and they asked the judge again for yet another extension before the judge gives Mike Flynn his sentence. This time, though, they didn`t ask for another 90 days. This time they asked for 60 days.
So, hey, maybe this thing is wrapping up. Maybe that 60-day extension the court granted, maybe that means the special counsel`s office believes that the portion of the Russia investigation that relies on information and assistance and testimony for Mike Flynn, maybe they think it`s going to be wrapped up in 60 days, by the end of June. We`ll see. They asked for 90 days before. Not this time. We`ll see.
So, maybe it`s going to end, you know, hot summer. We don`t know. But it`s not over yet. When Rudy Giuliani joined the president`s Russia legal team recently, he said he would have the whole Mueller investigation shut down, he would have it over with by the day after tomorrow.
If that were going to happen, we probably wouldn`t have Mike Flynn`s sentencing delayed yet again today for another two months. And we probably wouldn`t see this remarkable spectacle unfolding today at the very tippy top of the U.S. Department of Justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CNN REPORTER: Thanks so much for doing this, Mr. Deputy Attorney General. As you think about the importance of separation of powers on Law Day here, any reaction to the news that certain members of the House Freedom Caucus have talked about drafting up articles of impeachment despite your best efforts to comply with their document requests?
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: They can`t even resist leaking their own drafts.
MODERATOR: Would you care to elaborate on that?
ROSENSTEIN: I saw that draft. I mean, I don`t know who wrote it. It really does illustrate, though, a really important principle of the rule of law and the distinction between the way we operate in the department. And we make mistakes. That`s not to say we`re flawless.
But the way we operate in the Department of Justice, if we accuse somebody of wrongdoing, we have to have evidence, credible witnesses, we have to be prepared to prove our case in court. And we have to affix our signature to the charging document. That`s something that not everybody appreciates. And so, that`s the way we operate.
You know, we have people who are accountable. And so, I just don`t have anything to say about documents like that that nobody has the courage to put their name on and that they leak in that way.
But I can tell you that there are people who have been making threats, privately and publicly, against me for quite some time. And I think they should understand by now, the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted. We`re going to do what`s required by the rule of law and any kind of threats that anybody makes are not going to affect the way we do our job.
We have a responsibility. We take an oath. That`s the whole point when you take these jobs. You need to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, and that actually is a pretty thorough process.
And then you raise your right hand and you swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. You promise to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God. And that`s your responsibility.
Everybody in the department takes that oath. We have 115,000 employees. And if they violate it, they know they`re going to be held accountable. And I know those folks know that I`m not going to violate my oath.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I am not going to violate my oath. And the Department of Justice, what did he say, the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted. The Department of Justice is not going to be extorted -- calm but apparently slightly exasperated words today from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That was him taking questions from the press and the public at an event today in Washington, D.C.
That question was from a CNN report and it was about a real threat being raised against Rod Rosenstein by Trump-supporting members of Congress and the House. "The Washington Post" broke the news last night that pro-Trump Republican members of Congress have drafted articles of impeachment against Rod Rosenstein. Among Republicans who are worried about and threaten by the Mueller investigation, there remains a sort of working theory that if only the president could somehow change the oversight of the Mueller investigation, if he could push Rosenstein out and somehow get somebody else in there overseeing Mueller, maybe that would make the Russia investigation go away.
That theory in Trump world, it has some rational basis. It also has some serious flaws. But Trump-supporting members of Congress are clearly kicking this up a notch by now floating the possibility of impeaching Rod Rosenstein and leaking their own draft on that matter to the press.
It seems perfectly clear that if these Trump-supporting Republicans didn`t try to pursue these articles of impeachment against Rod Rosenstein right now, they would not succeed in getting him impeached and removed, right? They`re not going to get a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate to impeach Rod Rosenstein and remove him from office for doing nothing weird or bad.
But what seems crazy now is just a few days on Fox News primetime away from becoming Republican Party orthodoxy in Washington. By now, we should probably stop being surprised by how fast the Trump White House and Trump- supporting conservative media can move what initially seems like a totally cockamamie idea off the bleeding edge of the fringe and right into the center of what Washington thinks is possible and what the president insists should happen.
So, maybe -- I mean, they`ll try it. Maybe this is what they`ll do against Rosenstein. I mean, honestly, it`s worth pointing out that one of the things they want to impeach Rosenstein for is him signing off on the FISA warrant against Carter Page, surveillance warrant against Carter Page. It was a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, and he really was actually caught up in a Russian spy ring in New York City, one that resulted in espionage charges and a Russian spy going to federal prison in Ohio. Like the real deal.
You get a FISA warrant against somebody when you worry they might be an agent of a foreign power. Carter Page was in the middle of a Russian spy ring. He was interviewed by the FBI agents about his proximity to Russian intelligence operations at least twice, including a few years ago when he was in the middle of that spy ring they were busting.
The FBI went to him again in 2016, in the same month that he joined the Trump campaign, right before he took multiple trips to Russia in the middle of that campaign, and then lied about his meetings there with Russian government officials. So, if Carter Page being surveilled as a possible foreign agent is now what the Republican Party thinks is a gigantic scandal, then it is a gigantic list of FBI officials and Justice Department officials who are going to have to be impeached, because it`s a who`s who of the top leadership of the FBI and DOJ who signed off on surveillance warrant applications against Carter Page as a potential foreign agent.
And there is a fairly long list of judges who repeatedly approved those warrants as well. If Republicans think that that surveillance was a scandal, they will not just be impeaching Rod Rosenstein. They`ll be impeaching the whole senior leadership of the FBI and the Justice Department`s national security division and also a whole bunch of judges. And they will be banking that crusade on the credibility and patriotism of Carter Page. That guy will be the hill they say we should all die on along with the Department of Justice.
But with Trump-supporting House Republicans now drawing up articles of impeachment against Rosenstein, as deputy attorney general, he oversees the Mueller investigation. He also oversees the overall operations of the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We`ve got Rosenstein pounding his chest today saying, I`m not going to violate my oath and everybody who works at the Justice Department knows it and the Justice Department is not going to be extorted by these threats.
Meanwhile, that set of questions that the special counsel reportedly wants to ask the president has blown up into a whole new point of confrontation, given "The Washington Post`s" new reporting tonight that the Mueller team says they can subpoena the president to testify against his will if he refuses to answer those questions. Those questions have also created a whole new problem for the president and his lawyers. And there`s more to come on that.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So the set of questions that the special counsel reportedly wants to ask the president which were first reported last night in "The New York Times", those questions have been driving everybody nuts all day long today. The president`s response to what "The Times" published appear to indicate the president does not know how obstruction of justice works as a legal matter, which is probably worrying for his legal team.
The president also maybe didn`t read the list of questions or he maybe didn`t understand what they`re about. The president said online today that there are no questions on this list from the special counsel about collusion with Russia. Actually the list put out by "The Times" last night lists 13 different questions for the president on that subject. The times even helpfully grouped that baker`s dozen of Russia collusion questions under a special subheading in their story, a subheading that notes, hey, here, these are the 13 questions about Trump campaign coordination with Russia.
I don`t know why the president said publicly today that there are no questions from Mueller for him on the subject of collusion. But there are a lot of them. More than a dozen.
Now, "The Times" says they got these questions from times taken in a meeting between Mueller`s team and Trump`s legal team in March. They further report the president`s lead lawyer on Russia issues at the time, John Dowd, he quit that job as the president`s lead lawyer after that meeting in March, after that meeting where he and the other Trump lawyers got this list of questions, John Dowd quit.
Now, the implication of "The Times"` reporting on that point is provocative, right? The president`s lead Russia lawyer was unnerved enough by these questions and by the prospect that his client would try to sit down and answer these questions, that he felt he personally had to quit. Well, tonight, "The Washington Post" has just reported that list of questions was drawn up by Jay Sekulow, another one of the president`s lawyers based on discussions that happened at that meeting quote, after investigators laid out the 16 specific subjects they wanted to review with the president and added a few topics within each one, Jay Sekulow broke the queries down into 49 separate questions.
Now, "The Times" says they got this list that they published last night from somebody who was not on the Trump legal team. Jay Sekulow is on the Trump legal team. So what that means is, if both "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" are correct in their reporting, that means "The Times" published Sekulow`s list but they didn`t get it from Sekulow.
And that might seem like an arcane point, but it matters, because there are some serious questions now about whether leaking these questions might have been an effort to queer the investigation somehow, to tip off witnesses about the special counsel`s area of focus, to advise people who didn`t know their actions were under scrutiny that hey, your actions are under scrutiny.
And in one case, this new list of questions that Mueller wants to ask the president, it raises a very serious concern for the president and specifically for one of his lawyers. It`s this question, which asks the president about a potential pardon being offered to Mike Flynn before Flynn flipped and became a cooperating witness. This question suggests that Mueller knew about a pardon being dangled for Mike Flynn even before that was first publicly reported at the end of March.
It also suggests that anybody who dangled that pardon to Flynn might be in trouble. Well, apparently the person who dangled that pardon to Mike Flynn was Trump`s lead Russia lawyer, John Dowd, who again appears to have quit that job as soon as he found out about this list of questions. This list of questions that includes at least one pointed question about John Dowd`s own behavior. So, think about that for a second. It appears that the president`s legal Russia lawyer quit the president`s legal team right after he found out that his own actions, his own actions are under scrutiny in the investigation. Oh!
And there`s one last thing to note here. It`s about this question. What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?
Now, that question has had lights and sirens on it all day today, because over time, we`ve had a gazillion public reports and a gazillion references in people`s charging documents in court, to efforts by Russia to reach out to the Trump campaign. But this one, this question from the special counsel`s office, this is a question for the president about the outreach going the other way. This is a question about the Trump campaign reaching out to Russia, not Russia reaching out to them.
And, you know, maybe it`s just a mistake. Maybe Jay Sekulow didn`t take great notes in that meeting so he got it backwards somehow. But if that question was for real and he took good notes, then the Mueller team must know about something between the Trump campaign and Russia that we don`t have any public reporting about yet.
And it`s all the more mysterious, because Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort has been charged with a gazillion felonies already. But none of them have anything to do with what`s described in this question. What`s the wording again? Reaching out to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign. He hasn`t been charged with anything related to that.
Indeed, in an unrelated filing in court late last night, Manafort`s lawyer said they asked Mueller`s team in pretrial discovery for Manafort`s case if they had any surveillance or intercepts of communications between Mr. Manafort and Russian intelligence officials, Russian government officials or any other foreign official. Mueller`s office apparently told Manafort and his lawyers they had no such information, they had nothing of the kind.
But Mueller`s office also apparently wants to ask the president about Manafort calling Russia to ask for help for the Trump campaign? But they don`t have any information. They don`t have any intercepts of Manafort calling Russia?
I mean, time is short and the river rises, right? This thing is not going to end soon. But it is somehow going to end, we know from a whirlwind 24 hours of reporting now, just to bottom line it, that in addition to obstruction of justice concerns, potential collusion with Russia is a central part of the ongoing Mueller investigation, including allegations about specific types of collusion that we haven`t seen any public reporting about yet. And we haven`t seen anything in court filings about it yet either.
And we now know, thanks to "The Washington Post" tonight, that Mueller`s team is threatening a subpoena to force the president to testify even if he did not want to. And we know that Trump-supporting Republicans in Congress are gearing up to try to burn down the leadership of the Justice Department to try to stop this thing in its tracks, threatening impeachment against Rod Rosenstein. All of this has happened in the last 24 hours.
Also, it`s only Tuesday.
MADDOW: Here`s a story that`s taken a bunch of unexpected turns. Before the president had a personal presidential physician, before he had square- jawed admiral Dr. Ronny Jackson telling the world what great genes the president had and how with a little better diet, he could have a life expectancy of 200 years. Before that singular moment in American presidential lab results, private citizen Donald Trump had his own personal pre-presidential doctor.
This one was a gastroenterologist, a tummy doctor. He had been the president`s primary physician since 1980. In December 2015, in the middle of the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump`s doctor issued his own glowing report on the president`s health.
Quote, Mr. Trump has had a recent complete medical examination that showed only positive results. Usually positive results are not good in a medical exam.
Quote, his physical strength and stamina are extraordinary. If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency. That letter from Trump`s doctor sounded nuts at the time. It sounded nuts even if you didn`t see his doctor talk about it.
I mean, that would have been nuts for any candidate, even if that particular candidate hadn`t been fighting that race by saying that Hillary Clinton wasn`t healthy enough to be president. That over the top letter about Trump`s health was so weird at the time that an NBC producer at that time went to Trump`s doctor`s office to ask him about it.
And this is Dr. Harold Bornstein and his wife Melissa.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: I think what people are interested in is there was some question of did Donald Trump -- did Donald Trump write that letter for you or have any input into that letter, I think that`s what people are kind of curious about.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dr. Bornstein wrote that letter, OK? Dr. Bornstein wrote that letter. And it`s enough.
DR. HAROLD BORNSTEIN, TRUMP`S DOCTOR: I wrote that letter in a very good frame of mind, sitting here smiling as I wrote it too, to be quite honest with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I wrote that letter sitting here and smiling, to be quite honest with you. So, that was the story from Trump`s doctor. In the 2016 campaign, he, the doctor, wrote that letter. And never mind your spidey sense about the astonishingly excellent and other weird stuff in the note.
Trump`s doctor said he wrote that letter himself and nobody could approve him wrong. Ahem.
The same intrepid NBC producer who first got Dr. Bornstein to talk to her during the election is back now with a new story. In this new story, Dr. Bornstein tells her three men representing the new president turned up at his office shortly after the president was sworn in last February and in what he described as a burglary, they went through his files and took everything related to the president without his permission and without proper authorization.
But the event also kind of let the cat out of the bag about that crazy note he wrote back during the campaign about Trump`s superior health.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORNSTEIN: I will also tell you that letter that showed up in "The Times" about his health, he wrote himself. You know that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BORNSTEIN: He wrote it himself.
And me, from where I come from, the end of it was just black humor. It wasn`t meant to be a serious comment. I guess people don`t have that sense of humor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BORNSTEIN: But I get that sense of humor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The letter about the president`s health was meant to be a joke with a black sense of humor. It was a joke that was dictated by the future president to his doctor, says the doctor.
Tell them I`ll be the healthiest individual ever elected. Write that down. And he writes it down and thinks it`s a joke.
Real question, though. Does that mean Admiral Jackson also stood up there and read results that the president also wrote himself? We wondered at the time, especially after the White House misspelled the doctor`s name. They misspelled Ronny when they announced that briefing.
Maybe it`s funny we got what the doctor now says was a fake medical report about a candidate on the campaign trail. It wasn`t meant to be serious. If that happened with the serving leader of the free world, would that still be just as funny?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORNSTEIN: The morning or two after the story about his hair ran, she said, so you wanted to be the White House doctor? Forget it. You`re out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You wanted to be the White House doctor? You`re out. Forget it.
That was Dr. Harold Bornstein, who was Donald Trump`s personal physician who says he fell out of the new president`s good graces after revealing that the president takes medicine to fight off baldness. He said that led to this call from the president`s personal assistant telling him his dreams of being White House doctor, he should let those go.
This is all led to a very unusual interview now with NBC News investigative producer Anna Schecter.
Anna, thank you very much for being here and congratulations on a most unusual scoop.
ANNA SCHECTER, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER: Thank you.
MADDOW: Let me ask you specifically about what I just highlighted a moment ago. You interviewed Dr. Bornstein in 2016 and again yesterday. Both interviews touched on this unusual note he wrote attesting to President Trump`s health during the campaign. He initially insisted to you on camera that I wrote it. Any suggestion that Trump wrote it is wrong. He has 180ed on that entirely.
MADDOW: Does he know he has 180ed on that?
SCHECTER: He does. Dr. Bornstein can be all over the map sometimes in the conversations. I think what happened is Trump was dictating to him what to write.
SCHECTER: And he wrote it very quickly in the five minutes, but Trump was in his ear.
MADDOW: And why is he now admitting that when he previously was denying that?
SCHECTER: Well, it`s complicated. He didn`t want to divulge too much. And his wife was there and didn`t really want him to be talking. So, intimately about the president, his involvement in writing this letter.
MADDOW: OK. And the headline out of your piece today, which got a ton of pickup and a lot of people talking about it and just bewildered by it is the news that Keith Schiller, who was in a White House job at the time and a Trump Organization lawyer and another person, Dr. Bornstein says those three men, those three people came to Bornstein`s office in February shortly after the inauguration and sort of without permission and without authorization went through Bornstein`s files and took Trump`s medical information.
SCHECTER: That`s exactly right. They showed up at 7:00 in the morning. Dr. Bornstein wasn`t even there. There was a young woman at the reception. And she called Dr. Bornstein and said these people, these men have come into the office.
And so, they came in and Dr. Bornstein was extremely shaken. He says it was very frightening. He felt intimidated. And they pulled this thick file of papers on Donald Trump and handed it over.
And in those files were his laboratories under Trump`s name, under pseudonyms that they used for Donald Trump.
MADDOW: And they took the originals, not copies?
SCHECTER: That`s right.
MADDOW: Anna Schecter, remarkable scoop with Trump doctor, Harold Bornstein, today. Thank you for doing this, and please keep in touch with both me and the Bornsteins. Thank you.
SCHECTER: Will do.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: One last story for you tonight. Happy May Day.
Today, schools in Arizona were shut down for a fourth straight day. Teachers walked out last week, protesting underfunded schools and way below average teacher wages. Since their strike started, the legislature has fast tracked a bill to extend education funding. They`re likely to vote tomorrow on a budget that will provide teachers with a pay raise by the year 2020.
The teachers are counting that as a win. They now say they will return to school on Thursday if in fact that thing is passed by then.
Teacher walkouts like this one started in West Virginia in February. They have been catching fire all over the country ever since.
These protests have been big. They`ve had tons of public support. They have thus far been winning. Watch this space.
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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