Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 31, 2018 Guest: Danica Roem
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks for joining us at home at this hour.
One of the perks that comes with being president of the United States is that you get the use of being a very nice supposedly rustic retreat called Camp David. It`s in the woods. It`s up in the mountains in Maryland. It is technically a U.S. military facility, but what it really is, is the official country residence of the president of the United States.
And Camp David isn`t just one house. It isn`t like one single living facility. It`s a whole bunch of different buildings, a bunch of different cabins or lodges.
And they`re all named for different trees and shrubs. There`s Red Oak and Hawthorne and Witch Hazel and the Hickory Lodge. There`s a presidential office and a whole bunch of conference and meeting rooms at a place called Laurel Lodge, which was built during the Nixon administration in the early `70s.
But the main presidential cabin up at Camp David is called Aspen. And if you do a Google image search for it you`ll find there are all sorts of great pictures going back decades of presidents enjoying the Aspen Lodge at Camp David in all sorts of different ways. Important meetings and stuff, but also just kicking back.
So, there`s like Ike and Mamie playing scrabble at the Aspen lodge. There`s Truman driving up in his convertible to the Aspen Lodge. There`s Gerald Ford being actually as adorable as I`ve ever seen him in plaid pants at the Aspen Lodge. There`s George W. Bush getting to know Vladimir Putin.
Here`s President Obama apparently losing a water gun fight with his then young daughters, all at the Aspen Lodge at Camp David. And the reason it`s helpful to know that detail about the presidential cabin and the different names for different things at Camp David is because when people are writing about presidential history, it can sometimes be a little bit confusing when people who`ve been at the high levels of a presidential administration, people who`ve worked at the White House, say offhandedly that the president did something at Aspen.
For the rest of us, that would usually make us think that the president had done something in Colorado, in Aspen, Colorado. But if somebody who`s working in the White House says that, what they usually mean is actually the president was at the Aspen Lodge, was at the presidential residence at Camp David. That`s what they mean when they say the president was at Aspen.
And lots of important things, lots of important meetings have happened there.
Bob Haldeman, H.R. Haldeman, he went by Bob, he was Richard Nixon`s chief of staff through the spring of 1973. True Nixon loyalist. He had run one of Nixon`s campaigns for governor of California. And then he became White House chief of staff when Nixon was sworn in.
All through Nixon`s first term in office, and through the 1972 reelection campaign, H.R. Haldeman, Bob Haldeman, was Nixon`s chief of staff, which means that Haldeman was up to his neck and beyond in Watergate. The 18- 1/2-minute gap of the mysteriously erased tape from Watergate, that was tape of Nixon talking about something we`ll never know with Bob Haldeman.
Also the smoking gun tape, the tape that caused even pro-Nixon Republicans in Congress to give up and turn against him. The smoking gun tape that actually started the impeachment process roll inexorably toward Nixon. That smoking gun tape really more than anything was the proximate cause of forcing Nixon from office. That smoking gun tape where Nixon is heard on tape organized the CIA to tell the FBI that the FBI needed to stay out of the Watergate investigation.
The guy who Nixon gave that order to on that smoking gun tape is Haldeman. All the worst stuff, all the most incriminating stuff, all the stuff we remember all these years later, it was all -- Haldeman was right there for all of it. He was right in the mix of all of the worst of it.
Now, Nixon didn`t resign until August 1974. Publicly right until the very end, he insisted he wouldn`t go, and there was no need for him to go, he`d be vindicated. But privately, we now know that more than a year before he actually resigned, resigned August of `74, in April of `73, we now know President Nixon told his chief of staff, he told Bob Haldeman that he was going to resign. Sixteen months before Nixon actually did resign.
Nixon told Haldeman privately that he was despondent. He actually told Haldeman that he thought he was going to die. He told Haldeman he was going to quit as president. He said he had to quit because he said that he, Richard Nixon, the president, he said, I`m the guilty one in Watergate. Nixon confessed that out loud to his chief of staff Bob Haldeman more than a year before he actually resigned from office.
And we know that as a matter of historical fact because it turned out, lordy, there are tapes. From Watergate, there aren`t just the Oval Office tapes from the Nixon administration, from the White House taping system. Turns out that Nixon`s chief of staff through the whole Watergate scandal, Bob Haldeman, he also made tapes of his own. He kept a daily audio diary of everything he did as Nixon`s chief of staff.
I think he did it on a portable voice recorder. You know how the Oval Office tapes from Watergate are all kind of crackly and some of them are really hard to hear and there`s a lot of background noise? Haldeman tapes are not like that. Haldeman tapes are clear as a bell because he`s talking right into a handheld microphone.
It seems from these audio diaries that he had a habit of making one of these audio diary entries at the end of every day to explain what he had done that day as Nixon`s utterly corrupt criminal chief of staff.
Well, not long after Nixon was sworn in for his second term after he won the `72 election and the Watergate scandal really started to pick up steam, Bob Haldeman as chief of staff was one of the first people who Nixon threw overboard to try to save himself in the scandal. All on the same day, in April 1973, Nixon announced either the resignations or the firings of his White House counsel, the attorney general of the United States, his top domestic policy adviser, who was John Ehrlichman, and his White House chief of staff, Bob Haldeman. He announced they were all out on the same day.
And the day before all those guys got forced out or fired, the day before he was going to announce that, this sort of house cleaning that was supposed to end the Watergate scandal, the day before that all happened, Nixon summoned his chief of staff. He summoned Bob Haldeman to come meet with him at Aspen, to come to the presidential cabin at Camp David. And that is where Nixon told Haldeman that he needed his resignation. But he told Haldeman that he too was going to resign.
He said he had to resign because he was so guilty in Watergate, because he as president had ordered the whole thing. And then Bob Haldeman dutifully recorded that conversation into his diary that night. And we`ve got the tape.
So, here`s the tape. Haldeman you`ll here he references a guy named Ron Ziegler toward of this. Ron Ziegler was White House press secretary at the time. But the tape otherwise is self-explanatory.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, APRIL 29, 1973)
H.R. HALDEMAN, NIXON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: When we got there, Ziegler said he wanted to see me and he came out, went for a walk while we were waiting over at Laurel. And he was quite alarmed because he said the president has made another firm decision that he`s communicated around this morning, which is that he too is going to resign. And Ron said he`s deadly serious and absolutely firm on it.
When I got to Aspen, the president was in terrible shape. Shook hands with me, which is the first time he`s ever done that. Told me to come look at the view out the window, then stepped to the door and said, let`s go outside and look at the flowers and all. So, we were looking at the tulips from the Aspen Porch, talking about the beauty and all and as we started back in and he said, well, I have to enjoy it because I may not be alive much longer.
We got inside and he went through a discourse saying that while nobody knows it and he`s not a publicly religious man, that it`s a fact that he has prayed on his knees every night that he`s been in the presidential office and that he`s prayed hard over this decision and it`s the toughest decision he`s ever made. He made the points on why he had to do it, but he`s come to the conclusion that he has to have our resignations. He wants us to stay on to handle the transition.
Then he went through his whole pitch about how he`s really the guilty one. He said he`s thought it all through and that he was the one that started Colson out on his projects, he was the one who told Dean to cover up, he was the one who made Mitchell attorney general and later his campaign manager and so on. And that he now has to face that and live with it, and that for that reason after he gets his other things completed that he too will probably have to resign.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: You know, you don`t have to make a tape of absolutely everything, right? But you did.
So, this is -- this is the White House chief of staff having just been fired, right? This is Nixon securing the resignation of his chief of staff. And consider the dynamic here. This is this guy being removed from office.
This chief of staff is neck deep personally and clearly implicated already in all of the worst stuff of Watergate. In securing that guy`s resignation, the president confesses to that guy -- you know, I`m really the guilty one here. I did it all, I ordered all of it including the cover-up.
And then the chief of staff faithfully memorializes that in his diary that day, which is, you know, dated, filed away, and kept for posterity or prosecutors or whatever.
I mean, think about the legal liability that Nixon is in here. Nixon knows that Haldeman has been incredibly loyal to him, probably as loyal as they come, but it`s also more likely than not at that point that Haldeman is going to get charged with crimes related to Watergate. Part of the reason Nixon went through this public demonstration of getting resignations from all these top people in his administration and firing all these top people in his administration is because those are people who had already been publicly implicated in criminal activity related to Watergate.
So, he knows the likelihood that these guys who he`s pushing out are going to get charged, and the kind of pressure that might come from prosecutors if those guys are facing charges and prison time. I mean, my God, if Bob Haldeman ever decided to tell tales about what he knew about Nixon and Nixon`s involvement in Watergate and what Nixon had just confessed to him already -- I mean, there would be no way that Nixon could survive that for a minute. Haldeman was in on all of it.
Nixon was still confessing to him in the moments that he was pushing him out of the White House. And so, the very next day after Nixon and Haldeman have had this weird let us look at the tulips, I`m going to die, I`m the guilty one, I must resign confession thing, the very next day after that, Nixon goes back to Washington, he gives his big Watergate speech where he announces all these firings and resignations of all these senior people including his chief of staff Bob Haldeman.
And then after that speech, he goes back to his office and he calls Haldeman again. Haldeman`s gone then. He`s resigned. But he calls Haldeman to talk to him about, hey, how did I do in the speech? And that call, that call is the famous "keep the faith" conversation between Richard Nixon and Bob Haldeman, who he has just forced out of office and effectively blamed for Watergate.
Here`s that conversation.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Hello.
NIXON: I hope I didn`t let you down.
HALDEMAN: No, sir. You got your points over, and now, you -- now, you`re -- you`ve got it set right and move on. You`re in right where you ought to be.
NIXON: Well, it was a tough thing, Bob, for you and for John, the rest. But god damn it, I`m never going to discuss this son of a bitching Watergate thing again. Never, never, never, never.
Don`t you agree?
HALDEMAN: Yes, sir. You`ve done it now. And you`ve laid out your position.
NIXON: But let me say, you`re a strong man, god damn it, and I love you.
NIXON: And I love John, all the rest. And by god, keep the faith. Keep the faith. You`re going win this son of a bitch.
NIXON: God bless you, boy. God bless you. I love you, as you know.
NIXON: Like my brother.
HALDEMAN: Well --
NIXON: All right, boy. Keep the faith.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Keep the faith, Bob. Keep the faith. I love you, man. I love you.
But by God, keep the faith. Did I mention you should keep the faith? Don`t you flip on me. I`m doing everything I can. I love you. Keep the faith.
So, that`s from the Oval Office tapes. But that day, that`s the day that Haldeman gets forced out, right? That`s also the last diary entry that Haldeman spoke into his little audio recorder as White House chief of staff.
And we know from him quite accurately recounting that conversation that he had with Nixon, quite accurately recounting that conversation into his own diary, we know from Haldeman`s perspective that Nixon`s whole keep the faith admonition, that sunk in as intended.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HALDEMAN: I said, well, you`ve got it behind you now and you should approach it that way. And he said it was a very tough thing, I`ll never mention it again. Then he got feeling sorry for himself.
He said to me, you`re a strong man, you`ve got to keep the faith, you`re going to win this, God bless you. And he said again keep the faith.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Keep the faith. Keep the faith. That is how Nixon left it with his chief of staff who was up to here with Watergate, who he knew everything about Watergate and who he forced out because of Watergate.
Hey, Bob, keep the faith. You know what we did. You know everything I did, keep the faith. You know what I mean?
Then, just 2-1/2 weeks later, everything got way worse because that`s when the televised Watergate hearings started in Congress. And that day, Nixon decided, hey, maybe it`s time to talk to Bob again, make sure he got the keep the faith message.
Now, Haldeman is out at this point as chief of staff. But for some reason, Nixon was able to bring him back into the White House for this conversation. And at this point things are desperate enough in terms of what they`re figuring out they are up against with the Watergate scandal that Nixon sort of drops the whole keep the faith euphemism and just says bluntly what it is that he means.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
NIXON: What I mean to say is this -- talking in the confidence of this room -- I don`t give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) what comes out on you or John Ehrlichman -- even that poor damn dumb John Mitchell. There is going to be a total pardon.
HALDEMAN: Don`t -- don`t -- don`t even say that.
NIXON: You know it. You know it and I know it.
HALDEMAN: Nope. Don`t say it.
NIXON: Forget you ever heard it.
HALDEMAN: No, I -- I --
NIXON: It has to be done, Bob.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: So that`s May 1973.
What I mean to say is this. Talking in the confidence of this room, I don`t give a bleep what comes out on you or John Ehrlichman. Even that poor damn dumb John Mitchell. There`s going to be a total pardon.
Haldeman, don`t, don`t, don`t even say that. Nixon, you know it and I know it. Haldeman says no, don`t say it. Then Nixon says forget you ever heard. No, I -- it has to be done, Bob.
That`s May 1973. It turns out that tape is red hot legal trouble for the president of the United States. It`s May `73. At that point, Haldeman is out as chief of staff, but he hasn`t yet been criminally charged. Of course, he would be ultimately months later, along with all the rest of them, which led to this blockbuster front page of anybody ever wants to needle point me a page one of the "New York Times," this is the one I`d want.
But even before Haldeman was even criminally charged, here was Nixon on tape in the White House telling Haldeman about the fact -- well, you know, we should reckon with the fact that you`re going to be criminally charged, offering him in advance a pardon, a total pardon in the president`s words.
In that moment, he knows and Haldeman knows and we will all eventually know that Haldeman knew everything that Nixon had done in Watergate, up to and including Nixon confessing almost a year and a half before he resigned that yes, he had ordered the cover-up. That he was the guilty one. That he was the originator of the whole scheme.
Nixon at that point knows and Haldeman knows that if Haldeman ever wanted to flip on Nixon in this scandal Nixon, Nixon wouldn`t survive a minute because Haldeman had everything on him. So, even before Haldeman`s criminally charged, Nixon offers him a pardon.
You know, no need to flip. I`ll use my pardon power to rescue you. See?
And the reason that is a red hot burning fuse on a legal bomb that is sitting underneath the president is because in that moment, even freaking Bob Haldeman knows that what the president just said, that offer of a pardon, that dangle of a pardon, even Haldeman knows in that moment that that conversation is criminal obstruction of justice by the president.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
NIXON: There is going to be a total pardon.
HALDEMAN: Don`t -- don`t -- don`t even say that.
NIXON: You know it. You know it and I know it.
HALDEMAN: Nope. Don`t say it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Nope, don`t say it. Don`t say it. Because of course under the constitution a president has the power to pardon people, but you can`t legally offer a pardon to someone if that would reasonably be construed as an effort to protect yourself from your own presidential criminal liability.
Pardoning someone who`s in trouble with the law, fine. Pardoning someone who`s in trouble with the law because that person is in a position to testify or not against the president, that is not a legal use of the pardon power. That is criminal obstruction of justice by the president. Or at least that was believed to be the case during Watergate, including by some of the people who went to prison for Watergate.
But here`s the fascinating part. That specific tape I just played from may 1973 where Nixon offers the pardon to Haldeman and Haldeman says no, don`t say that, don`t say it, that tape -- for some reason, I don`t quite know why. That tape was never produced to the Watergate committees in Congress who proceed with impeachment proceedings against Nixon.
For some reason, I think a logistical reason, I don`t know. For some reason, that particular tape where he dangles the pardon didn`t come out until years later, whereupon Sam Dash, who was the chief counsel to the Senate Watergate committee, said had the Watergate committee received that particular tape during their investigation, had that specific tape come out, I`ll quote you from the "New York Times," quote, if known to the committee at the time, that would have justified a separate article of impeachment all by itself.
Sam Dash marveled to the "New York Times" when that tape finally came out years later. Quote, even Haldeman was trying to shut him up. They would have impeached him just for the discussion of that pardon.
Under the Constitution, presidents obviously can pardon people. They cannot use their pardon power to obstruct another live criminal inquiry. They cannot use the pardon power as leverage to persuade someone, say, a Bob Haldeman, from flipping and cooperating with prosecutors and testifying against the president himself.
And I say that not because I`m a legal scholar. I say that because at least that was the impression that even Nixon and his own staff labored under during the Watergate scandal. That`s why Haldeman was saying, nope, don`t say that, don`t even say that, boss.
And we know from Sam Dash saying so the exchange if known to the committee at the time would have justified a separate article of impeachment all by itself. We know that the people who were preparing to impeach and remove Nixon from office over his Watergate crimes, they were laboring under that assumption too.
Yes, the president has a pardon power but not a pardon power to be used that way. I mean, on top of everything else, the chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee saying had they known about that conversation in which Nixon dangled that power to Haldeman, that too would have been additional separate grounds for impeachment and removal from office. That would have been enough.
Yesterday, there were important sort of potent brief court proceedings in the ongoing criminal investigation against the president`s long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Since, it is angry man swearing on tape day here at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, you should know that NPR published this audio recording today for the first time that viscerally conveys the way Michael Cohen did legal work for President Trump over the years, particularly in the context of Mr. Trump`s political career.
In the case of this audiotape released today by NPR, here was lawyer Michael Cohen in 2015 -- let us call it liaising with a reporter named Tim Mak who was then working on a story about then candidate Donald Trump.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S ATTORNEY: You`re a bunch of disingenuous bastards. And mark my words for it (EXPLETIVE DELETED) today. It`s 4-17. Today will be the day that you will regret.
I know where you`re going with this stupid story. And I know what you`re planning on doing. I swear to god and my children, I will find you, I will serve you personally and I will be nothing but happy when I turn around and get a judgment of defamation against you, and (EXPLETIVE DELETED) paper that you work for. Do you understand what I`m saying?
TIM MAKE, DAILY BEAST: Michael, I --
COHEN: What are you, 24 freaking years old? You want to destroy your life? It would be my privilege to serve it to you on a freakin silver platter.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Michael Cohen, President Trump`s personal lawyer, in action.
Yesterday in court, the clock started ticking in a very important and urgent way on the criminal case involving Mr. Cohen in the Southern District of New York. The judge in his case ruled yesterday against pleading and begging appeals from Michael Cohen`s own lawyers. The judge ruled that in two weeks all the evidence seized by federal agents from Cohen`s home and office, that evidence will be given to federal prosecutors working out of the office of the U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York.
Those materials will either be given directly to prosecutors who are pursuing the case against Mr. Cohen or they`ll be given to a so-called taint team of separate prosecutors who will review the documents first before ultimately handing them over to those prosecutors if they don`t violate attorney-client privilege. But either way, tick-tock, it all goes in two weeks.
Prosecutors also spelled out bluntly yesterday in court that they`re currently reconstructing and piecing together the contents of the shredding machine in Michael Cohen`s office, the contents of which they also seized on their raid of Cohen`s office. Again, they think piecing together those shredded documents will take a couple of weeks. Not that hard. It`s the FBI, after all.
And you know what? When it comes to figuring out what`s in all these documents and all this evidence they seized, maybe Michael Cohen will turn out to be clean as a whistle. Maybe Michael Cohen and his business and legal and financial dealings will reveal him to be of saintly and civic good character.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
COHEN: So I`m warning you, tread very (EXPLETIVE DELETED) lightly because what I`m going to do to you is going to be (EXPLETIVE DELETED) disgusting.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: If hypothetically prosecutors do discover evidence that Mr. Cohen has in fact done some things that are disgusting. It is expected, and indeed the judge overseeing this case so far has expressed in open court that it is likely that charges would follow fairly quickly against Mr. Cohen in the Southern District of New York. We would express -- we would expect charges and maybe an arrest and arraignment.
Again, we learned yesterday that all the evidence goes to the prosecutors working on the Michael Cohen case in two weeks. We learned that yesterday. Today, the president of the United States inexplicably pardoned a right- wing pundit who had been convicted on campaign finance felonies by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, the same prosecutors who are now pursuing this case against his personal attorney.
Now, the gentleman in question had never applied for a pardon under Justice Department pardon guidelines. He was not even eligible to put his name into the well-established pardon process at Main Justice. This is a guy who pled guilty, who admitted he did it, who said he was sorry. He apparently used his mistress and somebody who worked for him to surreptitiously funnel an illegally large campaign donation to someone who he had worked on a conservative publication with, somebody who was running for office.
But yesterday, we found out that the prosecution of the president`s long- time lawyer is going ahead in the Southern District of New York. Today, the president randomly issued a full pardon to this guy who was convicted by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. The president also randomly today decided to dangle the prospect of a whole bunch of other pardons for people you might have heard of. Maybe Martha Stewart. Maybe that Illinois Democratic governor who tried to sell Barack Obama`s Senate seat and said it was golden. Maybe others.
And all of this is completely outside the established process for presidential pardons. That is a process this president is not using. Psychologically, the president has used the pardon power in a way that is not just contemptuous of existing channels by which these things are supposed to be pursued fairly and without favor.
Psychologically the president has started using the pardon power in a way that is designed to showcase his ability to pardon people, to showcase his ability to arbitrarily pardon anybody he wants outside of any system. To act on a whim, to do it whenever he feels like it. L`etat, c`est moi. The state is me. Or in tween speak, I do what I want.
Even with the president of the United States, even with presidential power as broad as the pardon power, you can`t just do it for anybody in any circumstances. You can`t even just offer to do it for anybody in any circumstances. Not in the case of a Bob Haldeman, you couldn`t. At least that`s what they thought during Watergate. And if you couldn`t with Bob Haldeman, why would the president think you could do this with Michael Cohen?
MADDOW: President Trump today announced a surprise decision to offer a full pardon to conservative writer and filmmaker Dinesh D`Souza who pled guilty to a campaign finance violation. He was prosecuted for it by the same attorney`s office that`s now pursuing an aggressive criminal who is investigating a criminal investigation of the president`s personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Well, now, we just got this statement from the actual prosecutor, the individual prosecutor who led the prosecution of D`Souza in that U.S. attorney`s office. In response to the surprise announcement announced by the president today, the now former prosecutor Carrie Cohen issued this statement tonight. Quote: D`Souza pled guilty because he was guilty. He allocuted on the record that he intentionally and knowingly caused illegal straw donor campaign contributions in violation of federal law. The court found no evidence to support D`Souza`s pre-plea claim that he was selectively prosecuted.
Joining us now is NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
Mr. Beschloss, great to have you here. Thank you.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Wonderful to see you, not just on TV.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly.
We`ve talked before about presidents` pardon power, which is very broad in the black letter of the Constitution. But looking back at Watergate and what Nixon got in trouble for, it struck me that Nixon was going to get in trouble and knew that he was going to get in trouble and people around him knew he was going to get in trouble for dangling pardons to people who were in trouble during Watergate. Is that true?
BESCHLOSS: Oh, absolutely. And I think you`re absolutely right in saying that might have been another article of impeachment. And that goes, as so many things in our system do, all the way back to James Madison, who said that a pardon, a president can use the pardon, it`s an absolute power, but if a president abuses that power that could be an impeachable offense.
MADDOW: Has there ever been a circumstance in which a president is thought to have pardoned someone specifically to worm his own way out of his own legal liability?
BESCHLOSS: Aside from Nixon there`s not been as large a case as that.
BESCHLOSS: And I think what Donald Trump is trying to do is pardon celebrities like Martha Stewart or Rod Blagojevich, as in Illinois and I`m a little bit -- find that one a little bit strange.
MADDOW: I mean, if you start pardoning Illinois governors, where are you going to stop?
BESCHLOSS: We`ve had at least four governors the last 60 years have gone to prison. We Illinoisans.
But the thing is if Trump keeps on doing this, this is sort of classic Trump. I think he`s trying to numb people so that if he does these strange pardons, then if it goes on to Cohen and Manafort and people who can actually do real harm to him unless they are pardoned, perhaps people will be a little more tolerant.
MADDOW: The president is very blatantly flouting the existing pardon process. There is a robust pardon process --
MADDOW: -- at the Justice Department. There has been for a long time. Presidents don`t have to follow that process.
What I`m wondering, though, is obviously that process was set up in order to make sure that the pardon power wasn`t abused, that people can access it fairly and without disproportionate or inappropriate favor. When Trump stops using that system and just randomly starts pardoning people that he thinks would be of political advantage or because he`s seen them on TV, does that norm ever come back?
When presidents break norms like that, they aren`t legally established but it becomes set up to basically control presidential decency, are they broken forever once the president breaks them?
BESCHLOSS: Absolutely not. Depends on how Donald Trump leaves office. But if he leaves office either early or, you know, gives way to a president who ran -- candidate who ran on being the opposite of Donald Trump, one of the first things that new president will do is say, I`m going to do all sorts of things the opposite of the way that Trump did them, and one of them is if I give a pardon, it`s going to go through this process in the Justice Department that so many modern presidents have used.
One thing that we`re learning in the last year and a half is how much of our democracy really does depend on tradition and also the respect of a president for those traditions and how much they have to do with preserving the system. Donald Trump has shown once again he has no such respect.
MADDOW: And how radically things can change, how fast, when all you do is you just drop out that one constraint.
NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss, great to have you here, my friend.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you. Wonderful to see you.
MADDOW: All right. We will be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is a midterm election year, and there`s all sorts of fascinating mathematical prognostication on the Democrats` chances of taking back the House and/or the Senate in Washington. The best argument for Democrats taking back the House and the Senate in Washington actually has nothing to do with math, though. It has to do with what Democrats have just done in a couple of really, really important states. And that very dramatic story is next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is what the legislature of Virginia used to look like. Democrats had been unable to flip more than a single seat in the House of Delegates in Virginia over a period of ten years. That`s how Republican that side of Virginia`s state legislature was.
Until this past November, which was the first statewide election anywhere in the country after Donald Trump was elected president. And boom. Look. In one fell swoop, 15 of those previously Republican seats in the House of Delegates went instead to Democrats. Democrats took them all. And thus arrived a whole new wave of Democratic legislators ready to give Republicans in Virginia a run for their money.
Overnight Republicans went from an impenetrable robust majority in the House of Delegates to just barely hanging on. And each of those Democrats who won ran their own campaign based on what they had to offer their own district. But if you were looking for a theme across them, there was one. And it was very clear. And those Democratic candidates made good arguments for it and frankly good ads.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you don`t have health care, you`re not alone. It is a right, not a privilege, that should be afforded to all. In Virginia we have over 400,000 Virginians without adequate health insurance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to do something about the cost of health care by expanding Medicaid and trying to bring down costs for everybody.
WENDY GOODITIS: I had a brother who struggled with alcoholism and PTSD for decades. I lost him in March, two weeks after I announced for this. It was devastating and hard to go on. But there are others like him. And I intend to make sure that they have more chances than he had.
In Virginia, we`re paying Medicaid taxes that go out of state. We are turning away $6 million a day. We need this. We need it badly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: For years, Republicans in Virginia had blocked that state from taking up part of Obamacare, part of the Affordable Care Act, that would have provided health insurance to more than 400,000 people in that state, people who otherwise didn`t have insurance.
Virginia had a Democratic governor but Republicans had enough of a hold in the legislature that they were able to block it for years. And it became a rallying cry for all those Democrats who ran all those incredibly successful, aggressive campaigns across that state last fall. Now, Democrats didn`t flip the whole legislature to Democratic control when they won all of those seats.
But boy, did they win a lot of seats. And it was clear what they had run on. And getting health insurance for people who don`t already have it, turns out that`s a pretty popular idea all over the place.
And so, those Democrats who won all those races fighting for that issue last year in Virginia, they basically changed the weather in their state. I mean, they didn`t win so much power outright that they could make the change alone, but they changed politics enough in their state that I kid you not, they got 19 Republicans in the House to cross over to their side and they got enough Republican state senators too.
And so, late last night, Democrats were able to do the thing they set out to do, the thing they ran for office because of. And now 400,000 people in Virginia are going to get access to health insurance that they didn`t have before. Ta-da.
But there is more to this story. And stay with us for that next.
MADDOW: One of the newly elected Democrats in Virginia who made it possible for that state to get health insurance for 400,000 people in a vote last night is Danica Roem. Last night, she tweeted these two photos side by side. On the left, the date on that one is April 20th of 2017. So, last year, Republicans in Virginia voting down health insurance for low-income people in Virginia.
That was before that big election in Virginia in November when tons of Democrats including Danica Roem won seats in the legislature. That picture on the right was taken last night, just over a year later, and as you can there, it`s the opposite result. Health care passes, 400,000 people in Virginia who don`t have health insurance are going to get it.
She added this hashtag, quote, elections have consequences.
Joining us now is Danica Roem. She`s a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Delegate Roem, thank you very much for being here. It`s nice to have you here.
STATE REP. DANICA ROEM (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you so much, Rachel, for not just having me but for showing those images of delegates. They`re family to me, and it`s so incredible that as freshmen, we were able to get this done last night.
MADDOW: Well, and the freshman class is what everyone is saying made the difference here. And as a pure mathematical matter, there were enough of you to make a change in the legislature, but Democrats didn`t take control of the legislature in either house. How do your increased numbers explain but not majority control explain this total reversal and getting all these Republicans to cross over and vote with you?
ROEM: Well, if you look at the statements, and just -- you know, the words from the members of the majority, you had, you know, members saying that, like -- look, there are enough votes regardless to expand Medicaid to cover people across the commonwealth, and 370,000 of my constituents who will have access to quality, affordable health insurance, which is incredible.
And so, recognizing the math, they understood that either they could be part of the solution or eventually when Democrats do take back the majority and we will as long as people are willing to knock on doors, make phone calls, and get involved in campaigns, then, well -- it`s either they would be left behind or be a part of, you know, bipartisan change.
And that`s what we had, where State Senator Emmett Hanger (ph), in particular, Republican co-chairman in the finance committee, he genuinely wanted to work in a bipartisan fashion, in a bicameral fashion, you know, between the Senate and the House to get this done. And the House Appropriations chairman, Chris Jones, he did the same thing. He was interested to making sure we had a fiscally sound budget that not just protected -- not just delivered health insurance for so many people but also put Virginia in that same fiscally great state that we`ve been in where we preserve our triple A bond rating. We have a billion dollars now in the equivalent of our rainy day fund we are on strong financial footing because we have an extra $400 million coming back in this budget cycle to Virginia from the federal government that is tax dollars that our constituents are paying for in the first place. So might as well bring home the money instead of paying it so other place, right?
MADDOW: I think the national Democrats are looking at what you accomplish in Virginia, not just in the election, but from your augmented and still minority position, being able to get this big important practical policy change in your state.
I wanted to ask if you felt like there was crossover tactics. If you feel like some of the energy and the mobilization that explains you winning your seats and so many other Democrats flipping all those seats, red to blue in November, whether some of that mobilization effort, of those tactics carried over into trying to get this policy passed too? Are you activating the same phone banks and calling on the same volunteers to make phone calls and put pressure to get your policy stuff done too?
ROEM: One of the other tweets I put out yesterday had a photo of a dear friend of mine, who lives in Haymarket, her name is Marilyn Carp. And she was hovering over me the night that Joe Biden, right after Joe Biden called me on election night. She was sitting next to me in the Senate gallery yesterday as we were watching the senators, along with other, you know, folks, who came in from Prince William County with their Medicaid expansion t-shirts on, they didn`t stop with the election.
And that`s the nationwide lesson here, is that your activism doesn`t just stop when you win an election. Now, you have to go and implement those policies. Now, you have to go and hold those people accountable who you helped get into office in the first place. So, you continue to make phone calls, you continue to show up at the state capitol and they showed up.
Our folks from Indivisible of Noble West came down, so many other folks, time after time after time again to make sure that, you know, their senators and their delegates heard their voice and while they were doing that, they made the case. You know, in terms of just being activists and concerned citizens who are trying to shape their government.
And I`m of the mindset that no matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship if you do, or who you love, that you should be able to bring your ideas to the table, because this is your America, too, and for all those people who worked on the elections last year and continue to work on policy issues that we had before us in the general assembly this year, this is their Commonwealth of Virginia, too.
MADDOW: Delegate Danica Roem of the Virginia House of Delegates -- really appreciate your time tonight. I know this is something you worked very hard for and campaigned for -- congratulations. Nice to have you here.
ROEM: Thank you so much, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Set your watches. The 2018 hurricane season starts at midnight tonight. And as if on cue, the "Associated Press" is out with brand new reporting that makes it sound like Puerto Rico is a sitting duck for this year`s expected storms.
Quote: If a hurricane comes tomorrow, it will leave the island completely without power again, potentially for weeks or months. This, of course, is in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which is a category 4 storm. Officials are now warning that Puerto Rico`s partially restored power grid is so fragile, so vulnerable, that it should be seen as teetering on the brink of collapse.
They`re warning even a category 1 storm could cause another massive blackout across the island. The power grid of Puerto Rico now, quote, is almost certain to collapse again when the next hurricane hits. Residents are being told already to stock pile enough emergency supplies to survive as long as ten days without help.
FEMA has positioned generators at hospitals and water pumping stations. They`re stockpiling water and tarps and emergency supplies, because, of course, statistically speaking, it`s a matter of when, not if, Puerto Rico`s is going to hit with one of these storms again. Power was supposed to be restored to the entire island after Maria by May, by last month. More than 11,000 homes still don`t have power since that storm last year. And now hurricane season again.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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