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MUkraine halts cooperation with Mueller probe. TRANSCRIPT: 05/02/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Ken Vogel

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 2, 2018 Guest: Ken Vogel

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That`s "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Makes it think indifferent.

HAYES: Yes, that`s right.

MADDOW: Seeing it is kind of a cool medium.

HAYES: You know, the problem is --

MADDOW: Hearing it --

HAYES: It`s the distracting visage of yours truly. You just can`t take it in the words. So, this just helps.

MADDOW: Is that what we`re calling it, distracting? You big hunk of host you.

HAYES: Face for radio. OK, that`s me.

MADDOW: Thank you, Chris. Well done.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. No distracting visage here. I know.

All right. Paul Manafort was fired or he resigned as Donald Trump`s campaign chairman in mid-August 2016. He left the campaign amid some startling news reports that he had secretly been paid millions of dollars off the books by the Ukrainian government. Now, Paul Manafort insisted that there was nothing wrong with the way he had been paid in that country for his totally normal political consulting work.

But it was awkward for a U.S. presidential candidate to have his campaign chairman turn out to be secretly on the payroll of a pro-Russian foreign government that had recently been deposed in a popular uprising. So, Paul Manafort left the campaign amid those reports. And actually, he left the campaign under circumstances that are still not particularly clear, especially on the financial front.

But if you widen the aperture on that moment in American political history, that moment in American presidential campaign history, it seems clear that that moment was not just awkward for Paul Manafort and for the Trump campaign, it was also -- if you wind it out just a little bit, you can see that that was also a very awkward moment for the country that had apparently secretly been paying Paul Manafort off the books.

Paul Manafort`s client in Ukraine was a pro-Putin dictator who he basically remade in his own image. The picture on the left here is Yanukovych before Paul Manafort. The picture in the middle is Yanukovych after Paul Manafort like loaned him all his suits and his haircut.

But come 2014, Paul Manafort`s extreme makeover Grecian formula magic was no longer enough to keep Yanukovych in power, and Ukrainians revolted against him. They overthrow his government, and he fled, naturally, to Moscow where he remains today under the protection of Vladimir Putin`s government.

So, Yanukovych got ousted. The new government that took over thereafter came to power in these really dramatic circumstances, right? Amid these massive protests in the streets and the shifting and uncertain loyalties of the police and the military and the new government ended up taking over the running of that country in dramatic circumstances. It`s no small matter to take overrunning a country when it had previously been run by a Putin- supporting dictator and you`re a country that has a very big, long border with Russia.

The new government in fact also took over what would soon be a war with Russia. But at the same time, amid all of that, the new government also decided that it was a priority for them to come to terms with what had happened under the previous regime, with what had happened under the dictator who they deposed. They decided that one of their priorities as a new government would be to understand, to grapple with the looting, the corruption, the wholesale cheating and theft of state assets which it all happened under Manafort`s guide.

And, of course, you remember the sort of scary and amazing footage of the long uprising that ultimately ousted Manafort`s guy. But the images from that time that I have found even more indelible since that all happened is the footage not just from the uprising, but the footage we got from the aftermath. After Manafort`s guy, after Yanukovych fled to Russia, because the aftermath footage was very moving I think in a civic-minded sense. We ended up with this footage of Ukrainians, regular people by the thousands streaming into the properties and the palaces that Viktor Yanukovych had kept locked up in secret while he was in power, so that the people of his country couldn`t see what he was stealing.

After he was gone, after he fled to Russia, the Ukrainian people opened up the gates and went in to see for themselves. And they were not there to loot the place, which you might expect in those circumstances. They went in instead to find out and document what this guy had done with their country`s wealth.

And that`s how we learned about his private zoo and his antique car museum and his gold-plated golf clubs. Does that even make for good golfing? That`s how we learned he had a fake Spanish galleon floating restaurant just for himself, you know?

And there is something amazing about the footage of regular people trying to figure out what all this stuff is and what to make of the fact that, yes, he really did have a gold toilet. Look at the creepy gold toilet feet. Look at that. Why does a toilet need feet at all? Why do they have to be gold?

It`s sort of fascinating to see regular people just taking this in, realizing wow, this is what he had been stealing all of our money for was to build himself a place like this with stuff like this. And the Ukrainian people did not tear the place apart. They didn`t loot it. They opened it up to show everyone and they invited in news crews so the world could see what this guy had done.

And then they took it further. They dove into his private lake that he had dug for his private floating restaurant. And they pulled out the papers that had been sunk there. They poked through the fireplaces and the ash piles to collect the shreds of documents that Manafort`s guy had decided to try to destroy before he fled in the dead of night back to Russia.

They salvaged all the documents they could to try to piece them all back together. Look at the torn and burnt shreds of documents. They`re laying them out to dry to try to piece them back together so they can tell the truth about this corrupt pro-Putin kleptocracy that they had just risen up as a people against. And end it.

And, you know, things in Ukraine have not worked out perfectly. They have not necessarily worked out great. Change is hard.

But in that moment, that human endeavor to try to make sure the truth did not get disappeared, that moment where they decided you know what? People need to know, this needs to be preserved for historical accuracy. There has to be accountability for what happened here. We can`t just let this all go.

It was moving, right? Just as a sober, constructive practical of how to love your country in difficult times, it was moving.

Well, as part of that effort, the new government that took over in Ukraine after this guy was run out of the country and fled back to Moscow, they established a new job in the new government. They established a special prosecutor to make use of all that salvaged documentation, to piece it all together, to make sure that the people who did what they did didn`t get away with it. They established a special prosecutor to investigate and pursue criminal charges against anybody who was part of the corruption and the selling out of that country under Manafort`s guide, under Yanukovych.

Well, amid the 3,000 or so cases that were eventually opened by that anti- corruption prosecutor, four of those cases were about Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his work in Ukraine. Paul Manafort, who had resigned from Trump`s campaign amid scandalous reporting here, about the secret payments of millions of dollars that he got out of Ukraine. Paul Manafort, of course, has since been charged in this country with multiple felonies, mostly related to allegedly -- to him allegedly laundering millions of dollars that he got out of that country, and him allegedly cooking up more or less elaborate schemes involving offshore banks and shell companies to try to evade paying taxes on that income.

So, for example, Ukrainian documents from the old regime he worked for, those documents show big payments for who knows what to a company called Global Highway Limited. And again, that`s of concern to the Ukrainians in this new government who are trying to figure out what happened to all the money that was looted from their country? Because who knows what that payment was supposedly for. But it was to Global Highway Limited.

Well, that company name turns up, again, in the special counsel`s indictment of Paul Manafort. Because the Ukrainians can see money going into that company, but what the special counsel`s office was able to document was where the money from that company went. That same company, Global Highway Limited, turned up in the indictment against Paul Manafort here because it was used to pay some of Paul Manafort`s own luxurious lifestyle bills. It paid Manafort`s bills at businesses where he bought lots of fancy suits and also antiques.

Money laundering is often more complex than this. But in this case, it looks pretty simple. Ukraine paid company. Company buys suits and ties and clocks or whatever for Paul Manafort.

FBI raids Paul Manafort`s house. They take the suits and ties and clocks or whatever, because they figured out where the money came from to pay for those things. And according to that indictment, that money turns up nowhere as Paul Manafort`s taxable income from his legitimate overseas consulting company.

So, as money-laundering cases go, it`s not that complicated. As tax evasion cases go, it`s not that complicated. And it all leads back to Ukraine. And Manafort`s Ukraine stuff is embarrassing and awkward enough for him that when it was first revealed in the American press, it got him fired off the Trump campaign.

But it remains of interest to prosecutors here in this country because of money laundering and tax evasion, and it remains of interest to prosecutors in Ukraine because Ukraine as a country and as a new post-Yanukovych government is trying to figure out what happened to all that money, what happened to their country`s wealth when Manafort`s guy was in charge and stealing all the money. Sure, a lot of it went to buy ostriches and toilets with gold feet. But a lot of it went to Paul Manafort, too. So Ukraine has been trying to track that down.

And this is the point in the story where the music changes and gets all menacing and dark, because "The New York Times" has just broken a really important story on this subject today. Andrew Cramer in "The New York Times" today reports that the four investigations into Paul Manafort that had been opened by prosecutors in Ukraine over Manafort`s alleged involvement in the hand-over-fist corruption of the government he worked for there, those four open investigations into Paul Manafort, which apparently were quite neatly dovetailing with the special counsel`s work in this country and the special counsel`s prosecution in this country of Paul Manafort in this country, those four investigations in the Ukraine have just been spiked. They`re dead, on orders.

Quote, in the United States, Paul J. Manafort is facing prosecution on charges of money laundering and financial fraud stemming from his decade of work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. But in Ukraine, four cases involving Mr. Manafort have been effectively frozen by Ukraine`s chief prosecutor. Quote, keenly aware of President Trump`s distaste for the investigation by the special counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between Russia and his campaign, some Ukrainian lawmakers say the Manafort cases now are, quote, just too sensitive.

The decision to halt the investigations by an anti-corruption prosecutor was handed down at a delicate moment for Ukraine as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell that country sophisticated anti-tank missiles called Javelins. The State Department issued an export license for the Javelin missiles on December 22nd. On March 2nd, the Pentagon announced the final approval for the sale of the Javelins and their launching units. The order to halt investigations into Mr. Manafort came very soon thereafter, in early April.

A Ukrainian member of parliament readily acknowledged to the times that the intention behind blocking the Manafort investigations, quote, is obvious. In every possible way, we will avoid irritating the top American officials, he said.

Quote, the order issued in April isolated the four Manafort investigations. Cases were not technically closed, according to a statement from the prosecutor general`s office, but the order does block the anti-corruption prosecutor who was pursuing the cases for issuing subpoenas for any evidence or from interviewing any witnesses. The anti-corruption prosecutor said in an interview with "The Times," quote, we have no authority to continue our investigation.

Before the order came down to freeze the case, the anti-corruption prosecutor investigating Manafort says that he had reached out to the special counsel`s office in the U.S. to try to formalize cooperation between Mueller`s team and the Ukrainians running their investigations into Manafort. That anti-corruption prosecutor now says since he has lost the authority to investigate Manafort, that offer to cooperate is now, quote, moot.

So, bottom line for us here in this country, does Robert Mueller, does the special counsel`s office actually need these prosecutors in Ukraine in order to nail Paul Manafort to the wall? Judging from their progress, in their cases against him and two federal jurisdictions so far, probably not. Probably not. It looks like they`re doing fine.

But we now know flat-out based on this remarkable new report from Andrew Cramer in "The New York Times" today that the government in this other country spiked those active investigations and effectively spiked the offer for their prosecutors to cooperate with Mueller specifically to curry favor with Donald Trump and the U.S. government, because they wouldn`t want to help Mueller. That might make Trump mad.

We also know that when they made that decision to drop those prosecutions in Ukraine, the president and the U.S. government changed their long- standing position on whether or not to sell that country anti-tank weapons. They decided, oh, you know what? Actually, despite our previous opposition, we`re going to go ahead and sell you those weapons.

So, did the U.S. government, did the Trump White House ask for that particular favor from Ukraine? Did the Trump White House, did President Trump, did the Trump administration say, hey, Ukraine, stop helping Mueller. Maybe you`ll get your missiles?

I mean, I don`t know. That seems nuts, right? But everything does seem nuts now. And so, it`s probably at least time to ask so we can at least get an answer on the record now to compare with whatever the later answer will be down the road once we get further reporting that explains the situation.

So, spiking the Manafort investigations, spiking the cooperation with Mueller, that`s one thing. There is a bigger revelation, though, in this new reporting today that has even bigger implications for what the president here is about to face here in this country next, and that`s our next story.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: The day before Paul Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign, "Politicos" Ken Vogel wrote a fascinating story about Paul Manafort. And again, it`s the day before he resigned. At this point, Paul Manafort was still the Donald Trump presidential campaign chair.

But Ken Vogel got this incredible scoop about Manafort`s man in Kiev. It was essentially a profile of the guy who ran Manafort`s business with him in Ukraine. And there is a ton that`s interesting in this story. It has stood up remarkably well over time.

But the big revelation in Ken Vogel`s piece was that Paul Manafort`s man in Kiev, his right-hand man in his Ukraine business, his closest associate for all that political work in Ukraine that ultimately brought him so much trouble, the big reveal in that piece was that that guy had been Russian military intelligence.

Quote, Manafort`s protege Konstantin Kilimnik is a Russian-trained linguist who has told a previous employer of a background with Russian intelligence. Kilimnik, a short man who goes by "Kostya", attended a Soviet military school where he learned to speak fluent English, and Swedish, which complemented the Russian and Ukrainian he already spoke. He joined the Russian army as a translator, work that closely aligned him with the Army`s intelligence services.

In 1995, he landed a job in the Moscow office of a U.S. group called the International Republican Institute. Kilimnik did not hide his military past from his new employer. When asked how he learned to speak such fluent English, he responded, quote, Russian military intelligence. Quote, it was like Kostya, the guy from the GRU. That`s how we all talked about him, said a political operative who worked in Moscow at the time.

Well, Kostya from the GRU was ultimately fired from the International Republican Institute because he secretly started moonlighting for Paul Manafort. When he eventually became a full-time Paul Manafort guy, though, that meant that Paul Manafort was running his business overseas with a guy from Russian military intelligence, with Kostya from the GRU, which is remarkable, right? Because Paul Manafort at that point was the chairman of the Donald Trump for president campaign.

That profile from Ken Vogel before the election back in August of 2016, that was the first we learned about Kostya from the GRU, this guy Konstantin Kilimnik. Since then, though, he has turned up over and over again. We learned that Paul Manafort for the first time during the Trump campaign at the Republican National Convention, he met with Kilimnik. Kilimnik came to the U.S. and met with Manafort during the campaign, during the RNC.

After that meeting, Kilimnik went home and bragged about having been involved in that mysterious platform change at the Republican convention, where the Republicans adopted really pro-Russia language in the Republican Party`s national platform. And no could really figure out why it happened or why the Trump campaign was pursuing it. That change to the party platform is still mysterious. Robert Mueller at the special counsel`s office is reportedly interested in that matter and wants to request the president about it. I mean, a guy from Russian military intelligence going home and bragging that he is the one who pulled that off? Wow, yes, tell me more.

Well, then "The Washington Post" and "The Atlantic" magazine obtained some remarkable e-mail exchanges between Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik from during the campaign, from when Paul Manafort was Trump`s campaign chair. These email exchanges are how we learned that Trump`s campaign chair during the campaign wasn`t just communicating with Kilimnik, this guy with the Russian military intelligence background. He and Kilimnik were communicating with a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, one of the richest man in Russia.

Manafort through Kilimnik was offering this oligarch private briefings on the Trump campaign. Kilimnik told Manafort while Manafort was running the Trump campaign that this oligarch guy would, quote, most likely be looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon, understanding all the time sensitivity.

One week after Trump accepted the Republican nomination on July 29th, 2016, Kilimnik e-mailed Paul Manafort again, explaining that he just had long meeting with that Russian oligarch on Paul Manafort`s behalf. Quote, we spent about five hours talking about his story. And I have several important messages from him to you. He asked me to go and brief you on our conversation. I said I have to run it by you first, but in principle I`m prepared to do it, provided that he buys me a ticket. It has to do about the future of his country, meaning Russia, and is quite interesting. So, if you are not absolutely against the concept, please let me know which dates and places will work, even next week, I can come and see you.

Paul Manafort responds to that note, quote, Tuesday is best. And then indeed, Tuesday, there is Konstantin Kilimnik in New York City, specifically at Jared Kushner`s family building, 666 Fifth Avenue, he and Manafort at a cigar bar and Kilimnik personally delivering whatever that Russian oligarch`s messages were for Trump`s campaign chairman. At least has to say, it has to do about the future of his country and the future of ours presumably.

Two weeks later, Ken Vogel ran his Konstantin Kilimnik profile in The very next day, Paul Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign. But this guy Kilimnik keeps turning up again and again.

When we got the sentencing of the surprise character in the Mueller investigation, Alex van der Zwaan, son in law of another Russian oligarch, Alex van der Zwaan gets convicted. He will soon go to prison for lying to prosecutors. One of the things he lied about was his contact with Konstantin Kilimnik, with Kostya from the GRU.

The special counsel`s office gave us more detail on Kilimnik in court, asserting in the Alex van der Zwaan case, that not only is Konstantin Kilimnik known to have a previous affiliation with Russian military intelligence, but in 2016, the FBI, still, quote, assessed him to have ties to a Russian intelligence service. So, he is still Russian military intelligence.

In court documents, the special counsel`s office has also asserted that Rick Gates, who is cooperating with Mueller`s investigation, he was aware of Kilimnik connection to Russian military intelligence, and he talked about it openly as he was referring Kilimnik to communicate with Alex van der Zwaan, right up until the presidential election.

So, now, here is where we are. This week has been turned upside down by a leak from Trump`s legal team of questions that Mueller reportedly wants to put to the president. One of the most provocative questions in the whole list is that Mueller`s team wants to ask the president what knowledge do you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign.

Well, if Paul Manafort was reaching out to Russia during the campaign, asking Russia to give the Trump campaign assistance, it would have been very easy for him to do so through his closest business relationship on earth, which is with a guy who is Russian military intelligence, as of 2016. I mean, if there is a Paul Manafort Russia collusion question, Paul Manafort`s relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik is the key that unlocks that door. It would seem that it has to be.

Well, that`s the other thing we learned today in this new report from Andrew Cramer at "The New York Times." As part of a newly reported effort to try to keep the Trump administration happy, the government of Ukraine did force their anti-corruption prosecutor to drop his four investigations into Paul Manafort. They also made their anti-corruption prosecutor come back on his offer, rescind his offer to cooperate with the special counsel`s office, Robert Mueller, and his special counsel office.

But the government of Ukraine has also let Konstantin Kilimnik flee to Russia. They have allowed Kilimnik to, quote, leave for Russia, putting him out of reach for questioning. The anti-corruption prosecutors in Ukraine had reportedly been investigating Konstantin Kilimnik for espionage.

He had definitely been part of their four open corruption cases into Paul Manafort since he was Paul Manafort`s guy in Ukraine. But they let him go. They let him go to Russia, where Mueller definitely will not be able to get to him. And Ukrainian lawmakers are explaining they did this to try to keep President Trump happy.

So, there is a lot going on today. The president got new Russia lawyers today. He fired Ty Cobb who has been one of his Russia lawyers from the very beginning. The president is making even more explicit threats today to the Justice Department and their ability to continue independently with this investigation in this country. And you see them making those threats as Donald Trump, and we`re all kind of inured to it now, right, this is the what he is like, this is how he talks, this is how he thinks, this is what he wants.

But he is not just making those threats as Donald Trump. He is making those threats as president. And the American presidency has global reach. And the rule of law is beloved everywhere. But it is only strong in certain places at certain times, depending on what people are willing to stand up for.

Joining us now is Ken Vogel, political reporter for "The New York Times" who wrote that blockbuster profile of Paul Manafort and his ties to Konstantin Kilimnik in Ukraine for before the election back in 2016.

Ken, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I know I keep asking you to come back and talk about this subject that you started reporting on a long time ago. I really appreciate your time.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, it`s great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: So, Ukrainian prosecutors have apparently allowed Konstantin Kilimnik to leave Ukraine to go to Russia where he is described as out of reach for the Mueller investigation or any other congressional investigators who might be looking into this matter. Is that your understanding, that he is effectively out of reach, that he has not been cooperating with or a witness for any of the investigations thus far, including Mueller?

VOGEL: He certainly is physically out of reach. And this decision to rescind the offer to cooperate is a big deal, particularly when it comes to Konstantin Kilimnik, because Ukrainians could have questioned him, whereas Mueller`s team could not. He has -- even in the Ukraine, he would have been out of reach without the cooperation of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian prosecutors.

Now, if he came to the U.S., of course, Mueller`s team could question him. But at this point, with his name or with him being referred to in so many of these court filings, it seems highly unlikely that he would do that. So what they can do, what Mueller`s team can do, and what we have seen some evidence that they may have done is monitor -- continue to monitor Konstantin Kilimnik`s communications. We saw some evidence of that in a filing late last year where Mueller`s team was accusing Paul Manafort of breaking essentially the gag order around the case by working with Konstantin Kilimnik over e-mail to write an op-ed, ghost-write an op-ed for Ukrainian politician, to run in a newspaper in Kiev.

And so, we saw that even as late of last year, months after Paul Manafort was under indictment, months after we had seen some suggestion that Mueller`s team believed that Konstantin Kilimnik was -- had ties to Russian intelligence, even then Manafort continued to communicate with Konstantin Kilimnik. That shows you how close the two were, and also potentially how integral to sort of cracking this case or putting pieces together of the puzzle Konstantin Kilimnik could have been, or could still be.

MADDOW: Yes, and that`s a fascinating point, that he may be physically out of reach in terms of accessing him, but you`re right. The court filings in the Manafort case show that at least his communications have been within reach.

And let me just ask your reaction, Ken, to the declaration in the Manafort case by Mueller`s prosecutors that they assess that Kilimnik didn`t just have historical ties to Russian military intelligence, or the kind that you first reported back in 2016, that he used to tell people that that`s where he developed his language skills, that that`s how he sort of explained where he came from when he was first working in American circles in the 1990s. But they`re saying they assess him to have Russian intelligence ties to be tied to Russian intelligence agency as recently as 2016.

What`s your reaction to that?

VOGEL: I mean, that was quite revelatory, Rachel, because we had done extensive reporting on Konstantin Kilimnik, including with stringers in Kiev who knew him and who had interacted with him over the years. And it was always kind of a mystery. How much of this is braggadocio?

It`s sort of like the Roger Stone syndrome. You keep building yourself up and telling people, hey, I got ties to Russian intelligence or sort of suggesting that you might have some in that would help them because of your connections to Russian intelligence and it sort of builds up a sort of mythology around it.

You don`t really know how much of it is real and how much is not. So, you were kind of weighing maybe critics of his who are saying that he continued to have ties to Russian intelligence versus defenders of his who are saying oh, no that`s sort of him bragging and exaggerating his capabilities. And now, you have Robert Mueller who has proven himself to be quite an authority on sort of assessing these types of ties saying that no, in fact not only did Konstantin Kilimnik have these connections to Russian intelligence, he still had them during the 2016 presidential campaign when he continued to communicate with the chairman of Donald Trump`s presidential campaign. That`s a big deal.

MADDOW: It is indeed. Ken Vogel, political reporter for "the New York Times" -- ken, thank you, thank you very much. And thank you for doing work good enough to still stand up two years later and be a necessary reference for continuing breaking news. Really appreciate it, my friend.

VOGEL: I appreciate being on, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks. All right.

All right. Big show tonight. Coming up in a second, we`re going to try something new, which always makes me a little nervous. But what the heck, one bold attempt. We`ve got a new power strip for this and everything. Last time we tried it, it didn`t work. I have high hopes for tonight.


MADDOW: We`ve been having technical problems. There is more personnel turnover in this presidential administration than there has been in any other U.S. administration ever, by a mile. And it`s turning out to be an about the thing about this presidency, how fast they fling people out into the night.

To try to keep track of the people getting fired and quit, we have tried to keep a running tally of whose gone, who`s fired, whose quit. But our bandwidth is only so wide, and the wall is full enough now that it keeps collapsing and blacking out every time we do this. That was a week or so ago.

So, as of tonight, we`re back to this because there`s more people who quit or have been fired. We need to put six more names up here. And I don`t know where they can go if we`re going to, you know, keep this thing legible and not make it fritz out again like the last time we did the wall.

So, they have told me in the control room -- we did not rehearse this, which is why I was checking which way I turned. They told me in the control room we only have one more option for how to find more space up here. And they sort of want to debut it tonight. I have not seen how this looks.

But let`s try -- are you ready? One, where are they going to put them? One, two, three. Where are they going to put them? Oh! We can go around the corner. I thought they were going to put them in between the columns.

Look. New wall. All right. And it`s holding so far. Look at all the room! Ha, ha!

All right. On Thursday, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs stepped down, just six months after he took the job. The administration has put out no statement about his resignation and the bureau has declined to comment. When the head of your agency inexplicably leaves you do actually have to say something about that, but they haven`t said anything.

Still no word from the administration, but today, TPM reports that the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs resigned after he was hit with allegations of intimidating and hostile behavior toward one employee in particular, and some people think there may be tapes of the intimidation incident in question. So, again, no word from the administration about it. But he is now gone.

Also out, yes! It`s working. A director of special projects in the White House counsel`s office. His name is Michael Roman, and before he went to work in the Trump White House, he was for many years the head of opposition research for the Koch brothers political operation.

So, this means for many months, we now know there has been an oppo research guy working in the White House, specifically in the White House counsel`s office, which is a little weird. Why does the White House counsel`s office need an oppo guy?

It`s also weird that they never formally announced that he was hired in the first place. We only found out about it thanks to a "ProPublica" investigation months after he was hired. Now, though, he`s gone, we were never formally told he arrived. We were never told what he did. We can`t imagine what he did.

But we do know on his way out, they gave him a snazzy pair of White House cuff links, and we know that because he tweeted it. So that`s the story of Michael roman.

Also, boom, yes! I`m so excited. We have so much space!

The head of ICE is retiring. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. He was appointed in November. He is gone now, which is quick.

We also need to add Albert Kelly to this wall, known to his friends as Kel, EPA senior adviser on the superfund program. Just before Albert Kelly was banned for life from the banking industry by the FDIC -- banned for life, wow! Just before that, Scott Pruitt asked him to come to the EPA with him to run the superfund program.

Why is that weird? It`s a fund. Scott Pruitt thinks he is super. Why not?

The details are a little sketchy on what exactly Mr. Kelly did to get banned from banking for life and how that qualified him to run the superfund program in the EPA, but now he too has resigned from the Trump administration. So we can put him on the wall.

The fifth new name is also a Scott Pruitt EPA guy, the chief of security at Scott Pruitt`s EPA, Mr. Nino Perrotta. He was the driving force behind the EPA`s massive security expenditures under Pruitt, including the soundproof booth -- soundproof booth he put in his office that is definitely not a SCIF, even though he told Congress it was. Nino Perrotta was supposed to testify about that today on house members of the oversight committee.

We`re told he did show up for that testimony. But 24 hours before he showed up for the testimony, he unexpectedly retired, which isn`t sketchy at all. And that brings us to the big fish. Today, the Trump administration also lost Ty Cobb, the White House employed lawyer, not a private lawyer working for the president, but a lawyer working for the White House. So we`ve been paying his salary.

He has been running point for the White House on all things related to the Russia investigation. Mr. Cobb told "The New York Times" that he told the president weeks ago that he was going to retire. OK, maybe. But he didn`t mention his impending retirement today.

In a long interview he did with ABC News just this morning, that interview was recorded two hours before "The Times" story broke about Ty Cobb leaving. He didn`t mention he was on his way out in that entire interview. We will have more on that coming up.

But I just -- I just -- you know, this -- I know this is a small thing. But I think -- I think we have room now for more people to quit and be fired. Look at all that space. It`s totally held the whole time. This is going to take us through the next few days, at least, maybe a week. This is great.


MADDOW: In September, "The New York Times" published a big story titled this way, "Trump lawyers clash over how much to cooperate with Russia inquiry." It contained a whole bunch of juicy details. But ultimately, the reason that story is remembered is how "The Times" got that story.

The way "The Times" got that was by accident, because a "Times" reporter, Ken Vogel, who we just had on the show earlier this hour, he overheard two of the president`s lawyers, Ty Cobb and John Dowd discussing their Russia strategy really loudly in public at BLT Steak, which is a restaurant that is situated right next to "The New York Times" D.C. bureau.

They were talking about what they`re doing in the case and their strategy about it out loud at an outdoor table without noticing who was sitting next to them, let alone that it was a very famous political reporter for "New York Times," which you might have expected if you planned to have lunch at a restaurant right next to "The New York Times". Oops.

Well, now as of today we know neither of those two Trump lawyers will be there at the finish line. John Dowd left in March. He resigned in March. Today, "The New York Times" is first to report that Ty Cobb is also out the door. He will be replaced in the White House by Emmet Flood, who is a lawyer that among other things worked on the Bill Clinton impeachment case.

In a statement, the White House said that Mr. Cobb`s departure was planned, quote, for several weeks Mr. Cobb has been discussing his retirement. Last week, he let chief of staff John Kelly know that he would retire at the end of this month. OK, if you say so.

But just a couple of hours before that story published, Ty Cobb gave a long freewheeling interview to an ABC News podcast in which he never mentioned his plans to retire later today. It didn`t come up.

In that podcast interview, Mr. Cobb said that President Trump, sitting for an interview with Robert Mueller was not off the table. He said he has great respect for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who oversees the Mueller investigation. He called him a dedicated public servant. He also said he likes Bob Mueller and he thinks Bob Mueller is just doing his job.

He did not sound like man who was to be quit. But apparently we should have seen this as a man who was about to be fired?


TY COBB, WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: I know Bob and like and respect him. In my view, Mueller is doing, you know, what he was assigned to do. I mean, he didn`t -- he didn`t start the investigation. He got pulled in by Rosenstein, and was given an assignment. You know, he had been working that.

People can argue about whether or not there is a lot of sprawl. I understand those arguments, but at the same time, again, he didn`t -- he didn`t launch into this on his own. He was given an assignment. I think it`s important that having been a special trial counsel to an independent counsel in the past, I think it`s important that the Justice Department exercise its oversight in these matters.


MADDOW: Ty Cobb speaking today just a couple of hours before it was announced that he is out of the White House. He also said that those 49 questions for the president that appeared in "The New York Times" this week, he said it`s his view that those did not leak from Robert Mueller`s team, despite any aspersions to the contrary cast by the president.


RICK KLEIN, ABC: Do you think that Bob Mueller leaked the list or his team leaked the list?

COBB: Oh, absolutely not. I have no doubt that he did not.

KLEIN: Who do you think did it? Where would it come from?

COBB: You know, I don`t want to speculate on that. I think it`s very difficult to see who, if anybody, benefits from the leak of that other than people who have been trying to sabotage the possibility of an interview and/or generate chaos around here. And that list is -- that list is too long for me to go through, but I`m not pointing a finger at anybody.


MADDOW: So, lots of interesting stuff today from the top White House lawyer on the Russia investigation, Ty Cobb. But while he was saying all that stuff, zero indication that he was actually packing up his office at this moment and had one foot out the door. Two hours after that interview was recorded, news breaks in "The New York Times" that actually Ty Cobb is gone, whereupon Ty Cobb gets back on the phone with the people he recorded the ABC podcast with and confirmed then, oh, yes, he is retiring. He just forgot to mention it to today.

Mr. Cobb further said that this was a planned rollout. This is how they plan to do it, you know, the way you roll out an important retirement. You have somebody do a long podcast interview where they talked about every aspect of the case and never mention that they`re leaving, and then you let a different news organization two hours later break the news that he`s leaving, and then he asked you to call you back and say, oh, yes, I forgot to mention.

Planned rollout, that`s how it works, right? Hold that thought.


MADDOW: Joining us now is Michael Schmidt. He`s a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for "The New York Times". He was, frankly, on a roll this week. Today, he broke the news that the president is getting a new lawyer, Ty Cobb is leaving, replacing him is Emmet Flood, a lawyer who among other things helped with the president`s defense during the impeachment effort against then-President Bill Clinton.

Michael Schmidt reporting today, quote, Mr. Flood is expected to take more adversarial approach to the investigation, than Mr. Cobb did.

Michael Schmidt, thank you for being here. Much appreciated.


MADDOW: What do you mean by more adversarial approach?

SCHMIDT: Well, the thing about Cobb was his approach was cooperation, cooperation, cooperation. He took the president at his word that the president say he did nothing wrong. And he said, look, the sooner we give them all the documents, the sooner we allow people to speak with Mueller, the faster this would be over, the sooner the cloud will be lifted.

If you remember, it was Ty Cobb who was saying at the end of last year, it was sort of this rolling thing, the investigation is going to be over by Thanksgiving, it`s going to be over by Christmas, New Year`s, et cetera. Here we are in May, Ty Cobb is out, and the investigation obviously still goes on.

MADDOW: The way Ty Cobb left today doesn`t seem to have matched the White House explanation for how he left. Ty Cobb saying it`s a planned rollout, the White House saying it was on deck and this is some sort of orderly process. Mr. Cobb, though, doing a long interview, up until two hours before you posted your story, where he never mentioned it, never came up, gave no indication that he was on his way out.

Do you have any clearer sense of whether he jumped or if he was pushed?

SCHMIDT: Well, there`s two things. One is that Ty Cobb is a veteran Washington lawyer, he`s been around for a long time and he is close to retirement. You know, He likes to spend time in South Carolina and that all sort of fits.

What else is going on is that Don McGahn, the White House counsel, really wanted him out and really spearheaded this effort. He thought that Cobb had given up way too much to the special counsel and working with his lawyer, Bill Burke, who`s actually good friends with Emmet Flood, they worked to recruit Flood over the past year. And increasingly in the past few months, McGahn and Burck really trying to convince him to come in.

McGahn and Flood see things the same way. They think that the executive power, the privilege issue should be exerted more and more should be kept away, and there should be a more adversarial approach to the investigation.

MADDOW: Michael, can I just ask you if you have any clarity on whether or not the president`s new legal team, involving Mr. Giuliani, who`s now been on board for two weeks and Mr. Flood who`s now on board as of today, are they also going to be working on the Michael Cohen case in the Southern District of New York? The two other lawyers who were brought on board the same day as Giuliani do appear to be working at least in part on that Cohen case. Is this a Mueller-only hiring or are they going to represent the president on a lot of things?

SCHMIDT: Well, it`s not clear. They`re still sorting it out. It`s still trying to figure out what Giuliani`s role is going to be. Is he simply there to negotiate with Mueller about an interview and would an interview even happen, or would Giuliani get involved in the New York aspect of it?

The thing about the New York case is that they don`t know a lot about it. They are very unnerved by it because Michael Cohen and the president will not talk about it. They won`t disclose what they think is in those documents. And there is yet much to do. There`s not a lot to do.

There was the handing over of the materials to make sure attorney/client privileges were, you know, not being violated, but at the same time the president`s lawyers don`t really know what`s going on with that investigation, but they are very concerned about it.

MADDOW: That is fascinating. Thank you for helping us understand that.

Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for "The New York Times" - - thank you tonight, sir. Appreciate it.

SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.

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


MADDOW: So, a couple of pieces of information have broken in the last couple minutes. First of all, Michael Schmidt told us, intrepid "New York Times" reporter who`s had a ton of scoops recently, just told us and I have not seen this anywhere else, that the president`s lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani and the rest of the Russia legal team are, in Michael Schmidt`s term, unnerved by the Michael Cohen case because neither Michael Cohen nor President Trump will tell Trump`s own lawyers what is in the documents that were seized from Michael Cohen`s home and office that pertain to the president.

Trump and Cohen must know but they`re not telling Trump`s own lawyers about it, Mr. Schmidt breaking the news here that the lawyers are very concerned about that matter and they do not know what to make about it.

There`s also been some news that`s broken just in the past few minutes about the president and the payment to Stormy Daniels. And I`m going to leave you to the tender administration`s of Lawrence O`Donnell for this one.

That does it for me tonight. Now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Lawrence, please tell me you understand this and what you`re going to do with this?



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