Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 4, 2018
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: On the dot, from the hardest-working and most precise woman in the business.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Thank you, Joy. Appreciate it.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Friday.
Earlier this week, the deputy attorney general of the United States Rod Rosenstein made headlines when he gave a talk in D.C. and after his talk he answered questions from reporters. A CNN reporter named Laura Jarrett asked Mr. Rosenstein about Republicans in Congress coming after him and trying to gin up support for impeaching him and removing him from office.
And in response to that question, Rosenstein gave the strongest public comments he has yet made pushing back against the kind of pressure that he`s been under.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA JARRETT, 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 like to elaborate on that?
ROSENSTEIN: I saw that draft. I mean, I don`t know who wrote it.
I can tell you different 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. 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: As deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein is essentially the COO, the chief operating officer, of the whole Justice Department. The attorney general is the head of the Justice Department, right? Technically and in terms of the title. But when it comes to who really runs the place on a day-to-day basis, it`s the deputy attorney general. It always is.
Even still, deputy attorney generals are usually not that high-profile. They`re kind of the workhorse, not the show horse.
The reason Rod Rosenstein is really high-profile is because Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recused from overseeing any investigations that touch on the 2016 presidential campaign. And that means that Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, he`s the guy who oversees any such investigation. He`s the one who appointed Robert Mueller to be special counsel, to investigate the Russia scandal. He`s the one who oversees the ongoing Mueller investigation.
That`s why Rod Rosenstein is famous. That`s why he`s come under such pressure from the president, from the administration broadly, from conservative media, and especially from Trump-supporting Republican members of Congress.
And that`s who he was talking to in that remarkable appearance earlier this week when he said the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted. I am not going to violate my oath. Yes, you can threaten to I impeach me, do whatever you need to do, I am not going to violate my oath and you`re not going to extort me. Right.
I mean, and you could tell from watching him speak that Rosenstein is -- dry I guess is the right word. Like he`s a serious guy, looks like he parts his hair with a Waterpik, right? He is a straight arrow.
But at that event earlier this week that`s been getting so much attention, I should also tell you that in addition to the justice department will not extort me, I will not violate my oath stuff, there was also one genuinely funny moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSENSTEIN: So, I think it`s partly about culture, partly about structure, and partly about the rights enshrined in the Constitution.
MODERATOR: If you would permit me, and I hope you will, I`d like to take a liberty. I`d like to hand you a piece of paper with some words on it.
ROSENSTEIN: It`s not a subpoena, is it?
ROSENSTEIN: I`ll take it.
MODERATOR: He`s stealing my thunder.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It was not in fact a subpoena, although there was a moment when it actually looked like he might be legitimately afraid, not just funny afraid, that it might be a subpoena. But here`s what happened next. In which we got a clear and surprising little window into what`s really going on inside Rod Rosenstein as he is facing all of this pressure as the president of the United States seems more and more obviously to be gearing up to try to fire him, or to otherwise push him out as a way of shutting down Mueller`s investigation.
Watch. This is what happened next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MODEATOR: He`s stealing my thunder. But I`m happy to give it to you.
So, I`d like to hand you a piece of paper with the words of a famous American. I`d like you to just take a look at it. And then if you`d be so kind to read it slowly and aloud to the audience. Here you go.
ROSENSTEIN: Well, this is Robert Jackson. Robert Jackson was the attorney general of the United States in the Roosevelt administration. His portrait also hangs in the deputy attorney general`s conference room.
And he gave a speech in the great hall of the Department of Justice, April 1st of 1940. And he spoke about the role of the federal prosecutor. And it really is for federal prosecutors, it really is a guidebook. Even now many decades later, really stands as the most significant articulation of the principles that govern prosecutors.
And this particular excerpt reads: the qualities --
MODERATOR: If I may, forgive me. I did not give him the name or -- he said April 1st, 1940. I mean, this is right from the top. So, I just wanted to make sure we credit you for that.
ROSENSTEIN: Boy, it`s one of my favorite quotes.
MODERATOR: Yes, sir.
ROSENSTEIN: And I encourage you to read the whole thing. But this is actually the concluding paragraph. It says: The qualities of a good prosecutor are as elusive and as impossible to define as those which mark a gentleman. And you should read or woman.
And those who need to be told would not understand it anyway. A sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power and the citizens` safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes and who approaches his task with humility.
MODERATOR: I didn`t even need to give it to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So there`s this moment. Rod Rosenstein is reading a quote from 1940 from a speech given by the then attorney general of the United States, who`s Robert Jackson. It`s kind of a weird moment, right?
The guy who`s interviewing Rosenstein appears to have just given him the quote. Not the name of the person who wrote it or the circumstances under which those remarks were delivered. But Rosenstein recognized it, starts expounding on it, ad-lib, who said, it the exact date on which the guy said it, what job he had when he gave those remarks, the building he was in when he gave these remarks, the room he was speaking in, how it has been received across history.
He even knows at what point in that speech this quote is taken from. He`s like oh, this is the concluding paragraph. Hmm. Right? And he knows that off the top of his head.
The reason Rod Rosenstein knew all that is because that was a quote from his hero. At the Department of Justice, like I said, the deputy attorney general`s really important. Deputy attorney general runs the place. As such, the deputy attorney general has a big swanky conference room of his or her own right outside his or her private office.
Here`s how Rod Rosenstein has decorated his own conference room at the Justice Department. He put up a gigantic portrait of this guy Robert Jackson, attorney general from FDR. So, he actually put it up so it`s over his own shoulder when he`s sitting at the head of the table at that conference table. So, other people are meeting with him looking down the table to where Rod Rosenstein sits, they will see Robert Jackson looming over Rod Rosenstein`s right shoulder, watching over what Rod Rosenstein does. He put that portrait up there himself. That`s his guy, pride of place for Rosenstein.
So, Robert -- this guy Robert Jackson -- he was solicitor general under FDR which means he argued Supreme Court cases for federal government when FDR was president. He`s was apparently very good at it. I think he argued like almost 40 cases before the Supreme Court. He lost a handful of them.
He was then attorney general in the lead-up to the U.S. entering World War II. He was attorney general in 1940, 1941. He left being attorney general in 1941 because FDR appointed him to the Supreme Court, became a Supreme Court justice. In 1941, he was on the Supreme Court until he died in office in the 1950s.
But interestingly, while he was on the court, he took some time off. You never hear of a Supreme Court justice taking leave. But Robert Jackson did. He took leave as a justice of the Supreme Court in 1945 so he could go to Germany and be America`s lead prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials.
So, a fascinating character in American legal history and somebody who ultimately ends up becoming Rod Rosenstein`s legal hero, up to and including the handsome portrait of Robert Jackson that looms over Rosenstein`s right shoulder in the conference room right outside his office every day. And when Rod Rosenstein on Tuesday of this week went to do that event in Washington and somebody confronted him out of the blue with a quote from Robert Jackson, he knows it off the top of his head, he expounds on it at length.
And that was the day, later on in those remarks is when he went on to say you know what, the Justice Department will not be extorted. And I will not violate my oath.
So, that was a couple days ago. Now check this out -- Rosenstein today. You know, I know lots of cable news shows like everybody talks about the same thing all day long, this is one of those nights when I`m talking about something nobody else is talking about. I recognize that. But I think this is really, really important. I think a lot of stuff people are talking about right now is deliberate noise that is designed to be enjoyable and -- obscuring of what we should be looking at.
Rosenstein decided to do another public appearance. He doesn`t have to do any of these, right? If you`re the deputy attorney general you have a lot on your plate. You`re running the Justice Department. In his case he`s also overseeing the Russia investigation, which is a big deal right now. He`s fending off live impeachment demands from Republican members of Congress and a deliberate strategy by the president to try to set him up for something so he can blame him for anything to justify firing him, right? All of this is going on in Rosenstein`s life.
And in the middle of that Rod Rosenstein has made the decision to make these multiple public appearances this week. It was Tuesday in D.C., the Justice department will not be extorted. Today, he decided he would attend the Montgomery County Bar Association annual meeting. Huh? I mean, no offense to Montgomery County`s Bar Association, but this is not like the see and be seen event of the century that no deputy attorney general could turn down.
I mean, I think it`s safe to assume that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, although he certainly has Maryland loyalties, I think he made these public remarks today because he wanted to make public remarks today. And these remarks he made today were open to the press. And he put this all on the record.
And so once again, he`s Mr. Meticulous. He is Mr. Super Dry. He`s not exactly John Belushi, right? But once again, he gives us one funny and also telling moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSENSTEIN: Each year, the American Bar Association selects a theme for Law Day celebrations. This year`s theme is one I particularly value, the separation of powers.
Why is everybody laughing?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He knows exactly why everybody is laughing, because while he is running the justice department we`ve got a president and a Republican Party in Congress that is hell-bent on firing him or impeaching him or removing him because they want to fire their way through the Justice Department in order to make the Russia investigation go away. And separation of powers is the only thing that stands in their way. And they know that. And they are very, very prepared to burn that down. And he is the guy on whom the heat is hottest.
So, he knows why his audience is laughing at this. Separation of powers, near and dear to my heart right now.
But he also knows what he has come to say in this low-profile but public, on the record forum. So for the second time in three days, A, we get Robert Jackson again from him. And B, we get a hard shove back against the president and Republicans in Congress who have been trying to monkey-wrench the Russia investigation through him, by pressuring the Justice Department, by pressuring Rosenstein in particular, by calling him names and calling for his head.
But most recently and most presently now, by demanding increasingly that Rosenstein has to hand over internal documents from the Mueller investigation that would show the White House what Mueller is up to, who he`s targeting, how far he`s gotten in his investigation.
What`s he looking for, right? That`s the documentation they`re trying to pry out of Rosenstein right now. And they`re threatening to impeach him because he`s saying no to that.
In the midst of an ongoing criminal investigation anybody who is potentially in trouble in that investigation would love to know what the prosecutors have, right? What they`re looking for, who they`re after, what they`ve got so far. That`s why it`s a bedrock rule of law enforcement and the Justice Department in particular you that don`t hand that stuff over to anyone in the middle of an ongoing investigation. It would impair, impede, and potentially pervert the investigation.
So that stuff is sacrosanct. You hold it internally. Nobody gets access.
Not Congress. Not the president. Not the press. Nobody.
Ongoing law enforcement-sensitive materials are kept within the prosecutor`s purview. Only. During ongoing investigations.
You don`t even need to go to law school to have that imbued in you as a rule of law American value, right? As soon as Monday of next week, Republicans in the House of Representatives may be mounting an effort to impeach Rod Rosenstein because he will not hand over to them internal documents from the Mueller investigation, which they presumably want to use to tip off the White House about what the Mueller investigation is doing.
Well, in this quiet little out of the way, off the news cycle appearance today, Rod Rosenstein just said, no, he will not do that. And if you`ve got a problem with that, he says you can take it up with the ghost of Robert Jackson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSENSTEIN: It is a bedrock principle with very few exceptions that we do not discuss investigations. The department`s long-standing practice of keeping information confidential has often been the source of disagreement with individual congressmen and sometimes with committees.
In 1941, Congressman Carl Vinson wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert Jackson. He requested FBI and Department of Justice reports made in connection with an investigation of labor disputes involving Navy contracts. There was no doubt that Vinson`s committee had a proper role to play in overseeing such issues, which is why he wanted the documents.
But Attorney General Jackson flatly refused the request. He did not compromise at all. Jackson explained that disclosing investigative reports would harm the national interest in a number of different ways.
When Attorney General Jackson responded to Congress in 1941, he referenced case law, statements by prior presidents and letters from six attorneys general. Jackson explained that declining to open the FBI files to review by congressional members and staff is, and I quote, an unpleasant duty. He was right about that.
But it was in keeping with the separation of powers embodied in our constitutional system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaking today.
I know there`s -- I know there`s a lot of hangover news today about the fact that Rudy Giuliani is now president Trump`s new lawyer and he said a lot of cray-cray stuff two nights ago that seemed to implicate the president in a lot of new stuff the president was trying avoid being implicated in and now the president says Rudy didn`t mean it and he doesn`t know and Rudy put out a statement saying, I didn`t mean it in the way you thought I meant, it I meant it in a good way.
I know there`s been a lot of hangover discussion today about exactly which particular lie was operative and whether the correction is a new lie or whether anything either of them said on these matters is even purportedly true at this point even on their own terms, right?
It`s -- I understand why that discussion`s continued into another day, and I know that it is kind of fun to have that discussion because those guys are incredible characters. But meanwhile, the actual existential threat to the Trump presidency isn`t on cable news. It still derives from the federal criminal and counterintelligence investigation into the president and his campaign.
I mean, the main event, the determinative fight for this president is right now, I think in his own mind coming down to whether the president has a way to dismantle that investigation. And the way he plainly wants to do that is by forcing out the guy who oversees it, by forcing out Rosenstein. And the way they`re trying to force out Rosenstein is by backing Rosenstein up against a wall and trying to force him to hand over the goods, to show what Mueller`s got, to pry open that investigation and hand over the materials that will show what Mueller`s doing in real time and thereby clear his investigation.
And in that main fight, the big fight, the front line, in this weird little conference room in Montgomery County, Maryland today one of the two combatants in that fight, Rod Rosenstein says I won`t do it, I will not hand over FBI internal documents from ongoing cases. That is a bedrock principle. I won`t do it.
And this is not a theoretical thing. First of all, Republicans in Congress really are demanding that he does that. And they say they`re going to impeach him for not doing it. And second of all, ongoing cases, we`ve got, and a whole bunch of interesting stuff happened in all the ongoing cases related to this investigation.
Mueller`s prosecutors today went to federal court in D.C. to get a continuance, basically an extension in their case against 13 Russian individuals and three Russian businesses which they brought felony charges against in mid-February. In today`s filing, Mueller`s prosecutors explained shockingly that they haven`t been able to get those Russians to come to court in the United States yet.
Quote: on the date the grand jury returned the indictment, the court issued summonses for the defendants to appear. The government has attempted service of the summonses by delivering copies of them to the office of the prosecutor general of Russia to be delivered to the defendants. That office, however, declined to accept the summonses.
The government, meaning the U.S. government, has also submitted service requests to the Russian government pursuant to a mutual legal assistance treaty, but to our knowledge, quote, no further steps have been taken within Russia to effectuate service.
So, yes, it`s one thing to have the special counsel`s office bring felony charges against a whole bunch of Russians including, you know, an individual Putin-connected oligarch in that case. It`s one thing to bring those charges against Russians. It`s another thing to get Russia to hand those people over to face trial.
So, today, we actually saw the special counsel`s office in court arguing for an extension so they can try other ways to make that happen. That said, also today, we learned that when Russian oligarchs connected to Vladimir Putin do come to the United States, sometimes they get to meet the special counsel`s prosecutors upon arrival as a surprise.
"The New York Times" reports today that Victor Vekselberg, one of the richest men in Russia who was just hit with U.S. sanctions a couple of weeks ago based in part to his proximity to Putin`s government, he apparently visited the New York area by private plane a couple months ago whereupon "federal agents working with Mr. Mueller stopped him and sought to search his electronic devices and questioned him. They confronted him after he stepped off a private plane. New reporting in "The Times" tonight on that.
We don`t know exactly why Viktor Vekselberg was stopped and questioned by Mueller at a New York airport. Nor do we know if they were successful in their effort to obtain and search his electronic devices when they confronted him.
But "The Times" reports tonight that Vekselberg did attend the Trump inauguration, and maybe that`s connected to why he was stopped. According to "The Times," Vekselberg attended the inauguration along with another person who donated a quarter million dollars to Trump`s inaugural fund. According to "The Times" tonight, Mueller`s investigators have also questioned that Trump inaugural fund donor who brought this Russian oligarch to D.C. to see Trump sworn in.
As "The Times" puts it tonight, quote, the interest in Vekselberg suggests that the special counsel has intensified its focus on potential connections between Russian oligarchs and the Trump campaign and inaugural committee.
Also today in the special counsel`s ongoing prosecution of Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, you might have heard there was a rip-roaring court hearing in that case with a 77-year-old judge who is known for his enjoyable courtroom theatrics. That judge did not disappoint in terms of drama today. He gave Mueller`s prosecutors a thorough going over, so much so that the president admiringly quoted the judge from the hearing transcript today and complimented him in a campaign-style speech that he gave today at the NRA.
We`ll be talking about court hearing a little later in the show because that rip-roaring hearing today did have a lot of drama in it, but the judge did ask one really, really good question about the prosecution of Paul Manafort. It`s a question that as far as I know nobody can answer. And it has really big implications. So, we`ll get to that a little bit later on tonight.
But I just want to underscore, what Rod Rosenstein is doing here, I recognize it`s been a little off the radar. It was a Q&A at the Newseum in D.C., and then it was him at this bar association meeting for their annual meeting for Law Day in Maryland. And I realize those things seem off the radar, right? But he really is doing something here.
House Republicans who support Trump really are planning something, apparently for early next week where they`re going to try to bring impeachment proceedings against Rosenstein directly to the floor of the House without putting it through even the committee process or holding any hearings. The reason they`re going to try this gambit, the reason they want to get rid of Rosenstein is because they think it`s the way to get rid of the Mueller investigation.
Well, the way they are laying a predicate for doing this next week, for an impeachment effort against Rosenstein or a firing of him by the president, is that they are demanding that Rosenstein hand over materials about Mueller`s ongoing investigation, and these are materials he can`t hand over and these are materials that he now insistently says he will not hand over. At the start of this week, Rosenstein formally rejected in writing these members of Congress` -- these latest efforts from the members of Congress to get full scope of everyone and everything Mueller`s been authorized to look at.
The following day, there was Rosenstein in public saying the Justice Department will not be extorted. Then today, not to put too fine a point on it, he says I`m not handing over FBI files from an ongoing investigation. Not going to do it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSENSTEIN: It is a bedrock principle with very few exceptions that we do not discuss investigations, declining to open the FBI files to review by congressional members and staff is, and I quote, an unpleasant duty. But it is in keeping with the separation of powers embodied in our constitutional system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So this is a real fight. This is a real fight. He is -- he is taking his stand here. While the president and congressional Republicans are taking aim at him.
This is his defense. We should notice that he is doing this in public. In terms of his offense -- well, we saw that for the first time last night with this in the "New York Times." Quote: a former federal law enforcement official familiar with the department`s views says that Mr. Rosenstein and top FBI officials have come to suspect that some lawmakers are using their oversight authority to gain intelligence about the Mueller investigation so it can be shared with the White House.
His defense is, you`re not going to pressure me into monkey-wrenching this investigation. I`m not going to be extorted. I will not violate my oath. His offense is, and you know what? Your efforts to do that look suspiciously like you in Congress are using your powers as members of Congress to try to obstruct an ongoing FBI investigation.
Now, has a member of Congress ever gotten busted for something that serious when it comes to an open law enforcement matter?
I`ve learned not to make assumptions about these things. Hold that thought.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSENSTEIN: Each year, the American Bar Association selects a theme for Law Day celebrations. This year`s theme is one I particularly value, the separation of powers.
Why is everybody laughing?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
Mr. Beschloss, thank you for being here. I`m so happy to have you here.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Me too. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, once again, I`m sort of talking about something that I`m stuck on as something that seems particularly important to me that I`m not sure anybody else in the news business is stuck on. But I am struck by Rod Rosenstein making these two sort of rare public appearances this week, both of which he seems to be drawing a line in the sand, citing his heroes from Justice Departments past and saying I`m not going to do what they think I`m going to do, I`m going to draw the line here, I`m not going to be extorted.
I wanted to ask you to comment on that tonight because I don`t know if there`s any sort of historical precedent that we should be looking at when we see him doing this.
BESCHLOSS: Well, he is drawing the line. The best precedent goes right back to Archibald Cox who in October of 1973 was asked by President Nixon lay off, stop asking for my tapes. And if Archibald Cox had been a Nixon lackey, he would have said, all right, I won`t ask for them anymore.
Conceivably, Nixon might have even destroyed the tapes. And if Nixon had destroyed those incriminating tapes, I think there`s a good chance he would have served for a whole eight years, would never have been driven out of office.
MADDOW: Wow. The other thing Rosenstein is engaging with directly here is something that, again, I don`t know if it is -- I don`t know if there`s precedent for it. We`ve got a fascinating blind quote in the "New York Times" which cites a former federal law enforcement official who`s said to be familiar with Rosenstein`s thinking and that of senior officials at the FBI who say they have come to suspect that some lawmakers are using their position as members of Congress to try to get law enforcement-sensitive materials about the Mueller investigation so they can hand them over to the White House, basically to tip the White House off about their -- the president`s liability in this investigation. Saying that they suspect members of Congress are doing that.
Has any member of Congress ever tried to do that or been busted for doing something like that? Is there any historical precedent for that that you know of?
BESCHLOSS: Not busted in a big way. Rosenstein mentioned one case was not exactly the same, but in that speech today where Congressman Carl Vinson of Georgia was asking Robert Jackson, who is a hero, who was attorney general, as you were mentioning earlier, for FBI information on a labor dispute with the Navy, and that is when Jackson said no, this would damage national security, would compromise our investigation, and Vinson laid off. And that`s why Congress usually does not do things like that.
So when we see members of Congress, I agree with you, very possibly trying to abuse their office, get sensitive information out of the FBI and the DOJ, and then presumably hand it to Donald Trump`s defense team, that is something that we don`t see in American history. It`s totally off base.
MADDOW: And Rosenstein in his quiet tidy way I think this week with these public remarks is trying to sound a sort of alarm about that.
BESCHLOSS: And I think we may be seeing a hero of the order of Robert Jackson in Rod Rosenstein. You know, anyone who worries about the vitality of this democracy, you know, just think about what happened that led to the possibility of Rod Rosenstein being the deputy attorney general and standing up to power and conceivably it`s not much to say saving this democracy, 30 years from now Americans may conclude that in history books.
MADDOW: We`ll see what he does and not just what he says before we get there.
BESCHLOSS: That`s for sure.
MADDOW: But certainly, he`s starting to say stuff in public that is really important at this moment.
BESCHLOSS: Totally important.
MADDOW: NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss, really appreciate your time tonight, sir. Thank you.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Rachel. Be well.
MADDOW: All right. More ahead tonight.
And because it`s Friday, we have some new breaking news, in this case, some new breaking news I`m told is about the FBI. We`ll have that story for you right after the break.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: We have some breaking news tonight concerning the FBI. "New York Times" just now reporting that two FBI officials resigned tonight. One of those officials is an FBI lawyer who has become a real bogey man on the right. Her name is Lisa Page.
Lisa Page was counsel at the FBI to both fired Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe who has also been fired. Lisa Page became a character in conservative media fever dreams about the Mueller investigation when it emerged that she and another senior FBI agent, who was overseeing part of the investigation into the Trump-Russia connection, they had exchanged text messages, personal messages snarking at or speaking negatively or in some cases speaking positively of various complicate figures including Donald Trump but also honestly Hillary Clinton and John Kasich and Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders and Eric Holder and a whole bunch of other people too.
The text messages started to be made public by Republican members of Congress in January. But Lisa Page has stayed on at the bureau since then until tonight whereupon we have -- until tonight, and now, we have just learned that she has resigned and left the bureau.
"The New York Times" also reports tonight that the other FBI official who is gone as of today is James Baker. Now, he`s a very senior FBI official. Until December, he was general counsel at the FBI. He`s one of the people who James Comey briefed about his interactions with the president, leading up to President Trump firing James Comey.
Mr. Baker was reassigned to some unknown job within the FBI after Comey`s firing, whereupon Republicans and conservative media figures started accusing him of being the source who leaked the existence of the Christopher Steele dossier to reporters. According to our reporting, Mr. Baker was reassigned to basically a potted plant job at the FBI, one much further down the food chain than his previous job as the top lawyer at the FBI. But there really was no explanation for the reassignment.
Well, "The New York Times" reports tonight that Baker had been investigated by DOJ on suspicion of having shared classified information with reporters, though he certainly has not been charged with that. Mr. Baker also tells "The New York Times" that he is joining the Brookings Institution now upon leaving the FBI. He tells "The Times," quote: I love the FBI. I have tremendous respect for the bureau. The FBI was great, is great, and will be great -- which presumably means it doesn`t need to be made great again.
So that`s the breaking news tonight out of the FBI. "The New York Times" is reporting that the decisions by Lisa Page and Jim Baker to resign from the FBI today, those decisions to resign were reportedly not related to each other. These things both happening at once but apparently not as connected matters. We do know that both of them worked closely with Comey during his time as FBI director, particularly during the investigation into Hillary Clinton`s e-mail server as well as the start of the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.
We also know, thanks to Comey`s testimony, that Baker was one of the people that Comey told about his interactions with the president at the start of the administration and Andrew McCabe, another one of those people, when he was fired from the bureau recently, he said in no uncertain terms that he believes his role as a corroborating witness for Comey is the reason why he was pushed out.
Joining us now is Matt Miller. He`s former chief spokesperson at the Justice Department.
Matt, thanks for getting to a studio for with us this breaking news tonight. I really appreciate it on a Friday night.
MATT MILLER, FORMER CHIEF SPOKESPERSON, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Of course. Happy to.
MADDOW: So, what`s your reaction to the news of these resignations tonight?
MILLER: So, I`ve talked to people tonight close to both Lisa Page and to Jim Baker, and what I`m told is they were indeed voluntary resignations and they were coincidental. I`m not even sure they each knew that the other was leaving today. And I believe that.
However, you know, they both were reassigned, as noted, in recent months. Lisa was moved into procurement. Jim Baker, I`m told, was put into special projects. And these are two of the most kind of accomplished national security lawyers at the FBI now doing positions where they basically couldn`t exercise their talents to the fullest. And I`m not surprised they would leave, you know?
So I don`t think they were directly pushed out but they were put in positions that were basically untenable for them. And the question you have to ask, you know, there`s this cloud that hangs over every decision like this by the Justice Department because of the president`s constant attacks. He attacked both of these people by name on multiple occasions.
You have to ask, you know, are decisions to fire people like Andy McCabe, are decisions to reassign people like Jim Baker and Lisa, you know, are they decisions made filly on the merits or does the president putting his pressure on the bureau just tip the scale a little bit in a direction it shouldn`t?
MADDOW: In terms of -- we`ve been talking a lot tonight about the separation of power plays and the independence of the Justice Department, the freedom of the FBI to pursue investigations including into high-ranking political figures without pressure. We`re talking about Rod Rosenstein`s public comments on those matters this week which I think are important.
Do you have any sense within the justice department or within the FBI what the feeling is about the treatment of people like Baker and Page and McCabe and Comey, these people who have both been -- both been pushed out or sort of led to resign by being reassigned and taken away from their work -- the work that they were doing before or overtly fired, while at the same time, the president`s really been mounting an attack.
How does that play within DOJ, within the FBI?
MILLER: You know, it`s a little bit of a mixed bag because people inside the Justice Department and inside the bureau really resent the attacks by the president and they really feel he has been treating not just all of the people he`s attacking by name, but really the work of everyone in the FBI and the Justice Department in a way that`s completely unfair and tarnishes the -- tarnishes the reputation of those two fine agencies. And so, that - - at the same time, that`s happening, though, there is this outstanding inspector general report.
And so, you know, there are questions hanging over Jim Baker, hanging over Lisa Page. Not for what the president has accused them of but, of course, their role in the 2016 election, what they advised Jim Comey to do both in making the July press -- holding the July press conference and releasing that letter so close to the election.
So, while I think people resent the attacks and see them as unfair, I think people are being treated unfairly, inside the FBI, there is a little bit of withholding of judgment until people not just inside the department but outside, alumni like myself can see that inspector general report and see what some of these factors that have been rumored for so long actually are.
MADDOW: Right, and among the things that Rod Rosenstein said today in these public remarks was that inspector general report should be out in a matter of weeks.
MILLER: Yes, we`ll see.
MADDOW: We`ll see.
MILLER: He`s been saying that for a while, but I know people who have been subject to that report, their attorneys still haven`t seen copies, which happens. They get a chance to respond.
As of earlier this week, some of these subjects still hadn`t seen copies. So, I think we might be a good ways away from it being finalized and released.
MADDOW: Thank you. That is very helpful, Matt. Much appreciated.
Matt Miller, former spokesperson for the Justice Department -- really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
MADDOW: I should tell you that James Comey himself has weighed in on one of these resignations tonight. James Baker, who again was general counsel at the FBI, which is a very high-ranking job, top lawyer for the bureau. James Comey tonight saying, quote, a great public servant retired from the FBI today. Jim Baker`s integrity and commitment to the rule of law have benefited our country through five presidents of both parties. We are fortunate he and so many others choose to devote their lives to justice.
All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was in court today in Virginia. He`s due to be tried there this summer on bank and tax fraud charges, alongside another trial that he`s expecting in the neighboring jurisdiction of Washington, D.C. But at today`s Virginia hearing, Manafort`s lawyers argued that the charges against him should be dropped because the special counsel is basically out on a limb.
The argument for Manafort and his team is that the Mueller prosecutors don`t have the right to bring these charges against Manafort. It`s not within their legal authority. So, we expected that argument from Manafort and his lawyers.
They made this argument before in D.C. They argued -- they brought a civil lawsuit saying the whole case against Manafort should be thrown out and the special counsel`s office should basically be burned down. That case was dismissed last week.
So, we sort of expected these remarks -- these arguments from Manafort and his lawyers today in Virginia. But then there was a weird turn, because then a party to this hearing today who doesn`t usually make headlines in cases like this himself made a bunch of headlines. The judge in this case made all the headlines from this hearing today because he lost his temper a few times during the one-hour-long hearing and he really stuck it to the prosecutors. Saying at one point, quote, you don`t really care about Mr. Manafort`s bank fraud. You really -- this is the judge. You really care about what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever.
The "or whatever" is the best part. Wow.
The judge pointed out that the investigation into Trump attorney Michael Cohen was determined to be unrelated to the special counsel`s primary work and so, in the Michael Cohen case that one wasn`t brought forward by the special counsel`s office and Robert Mueller`s team. Instead they referred that one out to federal prosecutors in New York.
So, the judge today really lambasted all the special counsel`s prosecutors. But then he asked this really, really interesting and sort of intriguing question. If the Michael Cohen case can become just a local prosecution in New York, why can`t the Paul Manafort case become a local prosecution in D.C. or indeed in Virginia? Decent question. Why does one of them get halved off and one of them still pursued by Mueller`s prosecutors themselves?
So far, we`ve seen nothing in the prosecutor`s filings in the Manafort case that shows a connection to Russian campaign interference in the presidential election. I mean, if the Manafort crimes are a separate discrete matter, if they`re all about his, you know, bank fraud and tax fraud charges related to his work in Ukraine years ago, then why wouldn`t those also be handed off to separate federal prosecutors like they did with Michael Cohen?
Well, here`s how the government responded to that today. Quote -- the prosecutor said, quote: The special counsel`s office takes very seriously the primary mission it was assigned in examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, adding that if it uncovered criminal activity that wasn`t necessarily related, they would refer it to another office.
If the criminal activity by Paul Manafort was not related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, they`d refer it to another office. That`s why they haven`t referred it to another office. That`s what the prosecutor said in court today.
Does that mean that these multiple felonies against Paul Manafort, this case unspooling in these two different jurisdictions is related to Russian interference in 2016 election and we can`t see it? If so, when do we find out? Is this judge going to make them show their hands on that? And how weird is it the judge screamed at everyone and then asked that really good question?
It turns out that`s all answerable. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Because it`s Friday night, you have more breaking news. "The New York Times" has just posted this new story, quote, Trump said to know of hush payment months before he denied it. "The Times" just posting this now, citing two sources saying, that months before the president reporters on Air Force One that he knew nothing about $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, according to "The Times`" sources, he actually knew about that payment months previously.
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade. She`s former U.S. attorney in Michigan.
Barbara, it`s great to have you with us tonight. Thank you for being here.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Oh, my pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, yet more breaking news. It`s almost like you`re little angel who brings it with you every time we book you.
I -- here`s how I feel, the he said, he said, he said, oops we were all lying, we`ll have another story tomorrow. This lying circus around the Michael Cohen case and this payment, I feel like it`s sort of turning out to be exhausting.
As you`re watching this as a former prosecutor, are you in wait and see mode in terms of what`s important information in this story or if the president is proven to have had knowledge about this while he was denying it to the public, will that end up being legally important?
MCQUADE: Well, you know, these public statements are not necessarily illegal. I think at some point, you hope the American public wants to hold someone accountable who lies to them repeatedly, but the shifting stories I think is what matters to a prosecutor. That the story keeps changing, because that suggests some sort of consciousness of guilt, there`s something to be hidden here.
Now, maybe it`s the embarrassment of having the relationship with a porn star, that is what is being hidden. But when someone changes their story so frequently, that does set off red flags for a prosecutor, that there might be something more here than meets the eye.
MADDOW: It seems like what`s driving them, what`s driving the shifting stories is the pressure of this FBI raid on Michael Cohen and whatever is going on, whatever federal prosecutors are pursuing with regard to Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump and this payment, there`s something about this SDNY case which is driving them to at least try to come up with new stories about it. The judge --
MCQUADE: I agree. It seems like they`re desperate. You mentioned in recent days, it`s like they`re on the edge of the cliff and they`ve got to figure out a strategy. They know this truth is going to come out and so, they need to get in front of it as much as they can.
MADDOW: The judge in the Manafort case today raised an interesting question. He got headlines for some other reasons, for really giving it to the prosecutors in the courtroom, but he basically confronted them. Well, why did you hive off the Michael Cohen case and make that a Southern District of New York locally prosecuted matter and you`re doing that with Paul Manafort? There`s nothing in court and you in your filings that says this is about elections, why do this one with a special counsel`s office prosecutors and separate that other one off? What do you make of that?
MCQUADE: Yes, I think there is a reason for that, because there is a relationship between the Manafort charges and Russian interference with the election. You know, Cohen is someone that, I`m sure, the Justice Department would like to see flip just as much as Manafort. The judge accused the prosecutors of only charging Manafort because they want him to flip.
But the fact that Michael Drevin (ph) said, we followed the money, it seems to me that the conduct that`s charged both in Virginia and D.C. against Paul Manafort all arises from that work he did from the government of Ukraine with associates of Russia, political figures associated with Russia and oligarchs. And so, even if they don`t have concrete proof that this is about Russian interference with the election, looking at the flow of money is always important to understand motives and leverage and extortion and blackmail and other things that I think they see it as being inextricably intertwined with the Russia investigation.
MADDOW: Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in Michigan, thank you, Barb. Much appreciated.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Happy Friday night. Thank you for being with us tonight. I hope you have a wonder weekend.
But now, it is time for THE LAST WORD with Ali Velshi, sitting in for Lawrence tonight.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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