Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 28, 2018 Guest: David Laufman
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you with us.
So the judge literally said, where do you want to go? They asked, we`re thinking about leaving, your honor. And the judge was like, where? Where would you go?
That happened today in court. We just got in the transcript of the court hearing today in the second federal felony trial of the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
And he is not on trial yet in that second trial, right? This is pretrial arguing. This is the defense and the prosecution arguing in front of the judge about the logistics of how the next Paul Manafort trial is going to go, how that`s going to unfold.
But there are two pieces that will end up being very, very relevant in that trial, depending on how the judge works these things out. And they were both hashed out today in court in front of the judge.
The first one is that Paul Manafort`s defense team doesn`t want his second federal felony trial to be in Washington, D.C. Paul Manafort`s defense lawyer today speaking to the judge. Mr. Westling, this is one of Manafort`s defense lawyers.
Quote: Just to give the court notice we will file this week a motion for change of venue. We wanted to just give you notice, your honor, and not be in a situation where that came tomorrow or at the end of the week, so you would be surprised by it. So --
And the judge interrupts and says: where do you want to go? Mr. Westling says: I don`t know that I have the answer to that yet, judge. It may be that there is no place. But we feel it is important to make the record on the issue and to brief it for the court.
The judge says: All right. I understand that. I believe that the overwhelming majority of the publicity about this case is national. So you can file what you need to file and I won`t prejudge it. But I think the goal of the jury questionnaire is to enable us to find a fair and impartial jury, and this jurisdiction, meaning federal court in Washington, D.C., has had very high profile cases before where we have been able through a jury questionnaire followed by individual voir dire to empanel a jury and I`m likely to believe that that is still possible. Clearly, if it turns out that it`s not possible if the end of the questionnaire and the voir dire proceeding, we can still take action at that time, but the judge says, you are entitled to file whatever you want to file.
Manafort`s defense lawyer Mr. Westling: Understood, your honor. Thank you.
So as the judge says here, she`s not prejudging Manafort`s request to move his next trial out of Washington, D.C. but I wouldn`t expect Paul Manafort`s defense team has their hopes up based on that initial response from the judge. I will also say that things did not go particularly well for Paul Manafort`s defense team today when it came to the arguments before this judge, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, when they asked her for more time to prepare their case.
Now, we`ve talked a few times on the show about prosecutors in this case. Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller. They filed this list of evidence that they plan to introduce in the next Paul Manafort trial. And the list is like super long. It`s got something like 1,500 different items of evidence on it.
Now, the reason prosecutors have to file that list of evidence is in part so the defense team can object to any of those items potentially being cited in the trial as evidence. Well, Paul Manafort`s defense team apparently cannot get it together to file their objections on the evidence for Manafort`s trial. And so, they`ve apparently asked for a number of extensions on this. We now know that the judge does not seem pleased by that.
The judge, quote: I was a little surprised when I read the joint pretrial statement that the defendant had voiced no objections whatsoever to any of the government`s exhibits. I have now read the pretrial statement in more detail and note that you are planning to do so at a later date. You all have been dealing with these exhibits for months. They just showed up in my chambers this week. I need your objections to the exhibits tomorrow.
Manafort`s defense lawyer, Mr. Zehnle at this point says, it`s -- and the judge interrupts and says, I understand. And then Zehnle tries again -- it`s -- is not going to happen, your honor. I apologize but we got dumped 1,500 exhibits just the other today, 1,500. There`s no way. A thousand exhibits, 1,100.
The judge then turns to the prosecutor from the special counsel`s office, at this point Andrew Weissmann, and the judge says to the prosecutor, well, are they designated which ones are for impeachment and which ones you`re actually planning to introduce at the trial? The prosecutor Mr. Weissmann says, yes, yes. The judge says, so how many are you planning to introduce in your case in chief? And Mr. Weissmann, the prosecutor, responds, quote, every single exhibit that`s on that list is something that we intend to offer in our case.
There`s 1,500 pieces of evidence there. That`s what we`re planning on introducing, your honor.
So, the prosecutor and the judge have a back and forth about how all these exhibits, all this evidence is important, and the prosecutors know what they`re going to do with all of it. The judge then turns back to Manafort`s defense lawyers and she once again gives Paul Manafort`s defense lawyers a little bit of a hard time about one of their decisions which has been a real mystery in this case so far, which is why Paul Manafort and his defense team elected to go on trial twice, once in Virginia and once in Washington, D.C.
I mean, prosecutors from the special counsel`s office had offered to consolidate the two cases so Manafort would only go on trial once. He said no. His legal team said no. This judge in the D.C. case has previously proclaimed herself in court to be basically bewildered by that decision and here today she once again goes back to it.
The judge, quote: Now, I the judge, quote, now I understand, wasn`t my decision to move another trial in front of this. It wasn`t my decision on push that trial up to accommodate that judge`s schedule. And, you know, it was your decision to push it further. And so, you`re under extraordinary time pressures that don`t happen on a daily basis.
But we have a pretrial conference scheduled on September 5th and I need to know what objections have you to the prosecutors` exhibits. So, what are we going to do?
Manafort`s defense lawyer Kevin Downing says: I don`t know, your honor. We don`t have the resources of the U.S. government. We don`t have two trial teams to get ready for two trials. This is us, three here and a paralegal. I don`t see how it`s going to get done with all the parts.
The judge responds, well, the day you asked for was yesterday. So what are you asking for now? You can`t just say I don`t know. You haven`t moved to continue the trial, which means delay trial. I don`t want to continue the trial.
We have 120 jurors coming in who have been prequalified to be available for this period of time. A lot of these documents you`ve been provided in discovery. You know that.
We`ve been living with them. You`ve been figuring out what your defense is based on them. I mean, I realize, well, I need an answer as to what you think.
Mr. Zehnle, Paul Manafort`s defense lawyer: Your honor, I have no idea how you think we`re going to be able to be prepared to go on trial for September 17th with all of this. The judge: Are you asking for -- have you moved for a continuance? Are you asking for a continuance? Let`s talk about that before --
Mr. Zehnle: your honor --
The judge: I will ask you at the end of this hearing. You have to -- you have to make a proposal to me. You made one in writing and it said yesterday.
Now, you`re telling me tomorrow is impossible. What am I supposed to do? I told you when I wanted it. Now I`m asking you, when do you want it and you won`t even tell me. You need to tell me.
Manafort`s defense lawyer: well, I would like to confer with counsel on this. And the judge says: all right. And then Manafort`s defense lawyers says and then I would like -- the judge interrupts and says, we`ll talk about this at the end of the hearing again.
The defense lawyer: I appreciate it, your honor. The judge says, we need a schedule. Defense lawyer, yes. The judge says, and I`m very reluctant to move the trial. I think we need to get these jurors in here. We need to pick them.
So, this is judge who is about to their second federal felony trial against the president`s campaign chair Paul Manafort in Washington, D.C. She is plainly exasperated and maybe even a little surprised that Manafort and his defense team made this decision that they wanted to put him on trial twice. It appears from the way the judge has addressed this in court that maybe it has been an inconvenience that she is the second judge of two federal judges who was hearing a major felony case against Manafort and timing of her trial had to be adjusted for the other federal judge who went first.
It is clear from this transcript today, she does not appear to be inclined toward Paul Manafort`s motion that they want to move this second case out of Washington, D.C. and have it somewhere else. Apparently, though, that will be litigated before the end of next week. So, we will get a definite answer on that.
But on this issue of Paul Manafort`s defense team not being able to handle the requirements of preparing for his second trial, just not being able to get it together, well, the judge today in D.C. have him a very hard time on that. But in the end, it`s interesting, she did actually give them a little bit of an extension. So there`s another round of fairly vociferous fighting at the end of the hearing over this issue of whether or not the trial will be delayed.
Manafort`s defense lawyers again complain about the pace, about all the work they have to do. Quote: As the court is well aware, we finished a trial literally a week ago today. We`ve been doing our best in the time we`ve had since then to obviously pick up the ball. And the prosecutors came back arguing against that with basically, no, you shouldn`t get a delay.
Quote: The date has been set for a long time. This prosecutor Andrew Weissmann from the special counsel`s office, he tells the court, quote, I can say that there are witnesses who have been told exactly when the trial is. We have witnesses who have medical issues that have worked around this. We have witnesses from overseas.
I mean, the idea that it`s now going to move again, it does create a substantial problem for the government, meaning for the prosecution. Well, the judge, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, weighed both sides of that argument, sort of impassioned arguments from both the defense and the prosecution on whether or not this case could be delayed. And in the end, she decided to give a little.
The judge, quote: With respect to the trial, while I absolutely understand the position of the office of the special counsel, I also understand the position the defense is in. So, I`m not going to give anybody everything that they`re seeking. But I`ll try to give you a little more breathing room.
So, this second Manafort trial had previously been scheduled to start September 17th, but Judge Amy Berman Jackson in federal court in D.C. today announced that they would start picking the jury on that date, on September 17th. But, quote, openings and the presentation of the evidence will start one week later on September 24th.
The judge explained to the prosecution and defense: Once we have the jury, we`re not going to swear them. We`ll tell them to come back on the 24th and then you`ll have the rest of the week to prepare. I think that`s really the best I can do under all the circumstances.
So that`s the transcript from today`s hearing. What this means is that the second felony trial of the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort will be effectively delayed for about a week even though jury selection will start on the date that we thought the trial was going to start anyway.
It`s interesting. I think it`s really helpful to have that transcript so you can see exactly how that was fought over, how it was decided. I think it gives us at least a little more insight than we might have otherwise have into the cause of the delay. And that is potentially important. I mean, last night, there was a report in the "Wall Street Journal" that Paul Manafort and his defense team have actually been trying to make some sort of a plea deal with prosecutors in the special counsel`s office.
You get that news about Manafort reportedly looking for a deal, followed by the news today that Manafort`s trial is being delayed and you might expect, you might at least wonder if the delay in Manafort`s case is because of some effort to put together a deal between him and prosecutors.
Now, it is totally possible that something like that is secretly going on behind the scenes and we can`t see evidence of it in court. But from the transcript of what did happen in federal court today, it does just seem like this delay is happening because Paul Manafort`s defense team can`t get it together. I mean, two federal trials back to back against experienced aggressive prosecutors, including the possibility that the first trial might not even be over yet.
The special counsel`s office is due to tell the court in Virginia tomorrow whether or not they`re going to put Manafort on trial again, whether they`re going to retry him on the 10 felony counts where the jury wasn`t able to reach a verdict in his case last week. I don`t doubt "The Wall Street Journal`s" reporting last night that Paul Manafort and his team may have talked to the special counsel and his prosecutors about the prospect of some kind of deal to make the charges in the second trial go away. But it doesn`t appear that any such negotiations are the reason that Manafort`s team is trying so hard to slow this thing down.
So, the news about this minor delay in Paul Manafort`s next trial is set today. There is a new trial date in terms of when opening arguments are going to start. This comes amidst new reporting from the "Washington Post" tonight that the president himself continues to be basically losing his mind over the Russia scandal write large, and the legal inquiries, the legal investigations, the prosecutions that have sprung from that scandal so far. We`re going to have a little more on this coming up later on in the show.
But bottom line, the "Washington Post" is basically reporting that administration officials have been doing a sort of delicate dance where they`ve been cajoling the president and consoling the president and basically trying delaying tactics with the president to try to keep the president from firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an effort to end the Russia investigation and its related prosecutions. As I say, we will have more on that in a moment. We have a former very senior Justice Department official here tonight. He left the Justice Department quite recently. He`s going to be joining us for his first TV interview since leaving government service here tonight, so we`ll talk about that and more.
But the other important thing going on here is that the president, of course, isn`t alone in his crusade to try dismantle or roadblock the Russia investigation and all of its component parts by going after key personnel and officials who have connections to different parts of the investigation. This is from an almost lyrical portrait more than 20 years ago. It was written in 1996. It was published in the "New York Times" about the head of a drug gang in the Bronx, in the criminal organization that he ran in the Bronx.
Quote: When the history is written of the drug gangs of New York in the 1980s and the mid-1990s, the kind that wrecked a city`s nerves, helped create record high murder rates and made gunfire a common sound in many neighborhoods, the author of that history might want to spend a chapter on Jose Reyes or as he was known El Feo.
Calm, charismatic and predatory Joes Reyes rose to become both dealer and supplier, building an empire, operating in a neighborhood doused in drug money, Mr. Reyes was a general in an army. He also devoured books on the mafia. He read Machiavelli. He argued Gibran`s philosophy and he killed, managing a hit team that left a trail of rivals dead in Manhattan and the Bronx.
He was so well insulated that it took law enforcement authorities several years to even hear of his existence. When they did, they were often amazed of his race. Two months ago, Mr. Reyes was convicted of running a drug organization and of killing seven men.
This guy`s name was Jose Reyes. They called him El Feo, which means the ugly one. And it was one of the legendary gang prosecutions of that whole era. His whole organization but also he himself indicted in 1994. They tried El Feo, they tried Jose Reyes in federal court in New York City.
The judge deliberated for eight days. When they came back they ruled that he was guilty of seven murders which meant, of course, life in prison.
The prosecution was led in part by assistant attorney in the Southern District of New York who was thought of as a bit of a brainiac. Before law school, he had graduated from Harvard with a degree in physics. After he helped bring the successful landmark El Feo prosecution in New York, that assistant U.S. attorney got a big promotion. He was named chief of the violent gangs unit for the whole Southern District of New York.
It would not be long, though, before main justice, the Main Justice Department in D.C. hired him away from the U.S. attorney`s office in New York and at Main Justice in D.C., he rose to lead the organized crime and racketeering section for the whole Department of Justice. His specialty was international organized crime.
To run that section, he became known as an intricate manager. He liaised the Justice Department not just with the FBI, but with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies all around the world. He built and maintained those contacts for the benefit of the Justice Department.
And that makes sense. He was leading a team that was prosecuting international organized crime, so you need those intel and international law enforcement connections. In 2003, he oversaw the team that indicted the boss of all bosses in the Russian mafia. And that made big news at the time.
I have to admit, the big news made at the time when the Justice Department indicted the godfather of the Russian mafia, it was somewhat limited by the fact nobody could pronounce the name of the guy they just indicted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEMALE TV ANCHOR: Today, we have some of the FBI`s most wanted for you. This is Semion Mogilevich. He is wanted for racketeering, securities fraud, wire and mail fraud and money laundering. We are told he has pockmarks on his face and smokes heavily and uses a Russian passport. He is considered armed and dangerous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I am no better at pronouncing Russian names than the next guy. I think it`s Simeon Mogilevich. I`ve been practicing. That`s probably still wrong.
Simeon Mogilevich is considered to be the godfather of the Russian mob. He is one of the most wanted men in the world. He has been for years. He is a fugitive from justice. He is under indictment in the United States. He is on the most wanted list for the FBI, but they haven`t been able to get him.
Very few pictures of him even exist. Mogilevich`s name has turned up, though, in a couple ways, in the Russia investigation involving President Trump. A Russian born ex-con who worked for a while at the Trump Organization, who worked with Michael Cohen in the plan to try to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during presidential campaign.
That effort that then candidate Donald Trump inexplicably lied about, and publicly denied during the campaign, he has been described as having links to Semion Mogilevich and his organized crime network, although he denies any such link. Simeon Mogilevich also turns up in Paul Manafort`s business history, because at one point, Paul Manafort pursued what would have been a gigantic real estate deal in New York City with some Russian linked Ukrainian business partners.
That real estate deal never came to pass, but it was the subject of litigation in the U.S. and great controversy in Ukraine because that would be real estate deal was suspected of essentially being a way for Paul Manafort to help launder some of Simeon Mogilevich`s money that he had earned as head of the Russian mob.
So, Semion Mogilevich, this top figure in the Russian mafia, starring role on the FBI`s ten most wanted international fugitives list, a guy who periodically leads to headlines like this one, whenever the FBI starts talking about him again, FBI, mobster more powerful than Gotti. The Justice Department official who actually led the effort to indict Simeon Mogilevich, led the effort to bring him to justice in the U.S. courts, that`s the same Harvard brainiac who had come up from gang duty in New York after prosecuting the drug gangs and El Feo, right?
Soon after he got to the Justice Department, he indicted the head of the Russian mafia. He also played another key role in the case of another bold phased name who has ended up having a starring role in the Russia scandal and the legal trouble surrounding this president and his campaign.
I mentioned those 1,500 pieces of evidence that the special counsel`s office says they`re going to use every single one of in their trial for Paul Manafort in Washington, D.C. -- well, at least a couple of those pieces of evidence appear to explicitly reference a Russian oligarch linked to Vladimir Putin whose name is Oleg Deripaska. He is apparently going to play a role in the Manafort trial coming up in D.C.
You will also remember that Oleg Deripaska`s name surfaced in reporting earlier this year when "The Atlantic" magazine and "Washington Post" turned up e-mails that indicated add while Manafort`s was running Trump`s presidential campaign he was simultaneously offering private briefings on the election and the campaign to this Russian oligarch to Oleg Deripaska.
Last year, last spring, the "Associated Press" reported that Manafort had entered into a $10 million contract a year contract with Oleg Deripaska to promote the interests of Vladimir Putin`s government around the world. Well, in 2006, that same Justice Department official, the one who had started as the gang prosecutor, taking apart those drug gangs in the Bronx, the guy who had worked his way to becoming an expert on transnational organized crime, the guy who led the team that brought the prosecution of the head of the Russian mafia, that same official, quote, was part of a group of government officials who revoked the visa of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire and aluminum magnate. Officials were concerned that Mr. Deripaska might try to come to the United States to launder illicit profits through real estate.
The Russia scandal around this president and particularly the part of it that has led to these two federal criminal trials against the president`s campaign chairman, it has an organized crime element to it. It has a Russian organized crime element to it. And now, as the president mulls pardoning Paul Manafort and he mulls replacing his White House counsel if the White House counsel won`t let him pardon Paul Manafort, as the president openly mulls firing the attorney general of the United States in the midst of the Manafort prosecution as a way to try to make the Russia investigation all go away, today, Republicans in Congress spent the entire day going after that Justice Department official I`ve been talking about.
That specific official who started with the El Feo case and the drug gangs in the Bronx, who rose to become the head of organized crime and racketeering at the Justice Department, who became the Justice Department`s expert on Russian organized crime, the guy who indicted the head of the Russian mafia, the guy who became the Justice Department`s lead counsel for transnational organized crime and international affairs. The guy who had been part of the team that banned Paul Manafort`s patron and business partner Oleg Deripaska from doing business or visiting the United States on the basis of his alleged ties to organized crime in Russia, that Justice Department official, that guy is named Bruce Ohr.
And he is the object of conspiracy theories and condemnation on right wing media on a 24-hour loop. And today, pro-Trump Republican members of Congress summoned Bruce Ohr to testify behind closed doors before two separate Republican-led committees and then the despite the closed door nature of his testimony, those Republicans immediately went out to the cameras to talk to reporters about how Bruce Ohr was a liar and to basically accuse him of being the rot at the heart of the Mueller investigation and the Russia scandal more broadly.
"The New York Times" this weekend profiled Bruce Ohr`s long history in leading American law enforcement efforts against Russian organized crime. There is a Russian organized crime element to the Trump/Russia scandal. Today, House Republicans literally came back from their summer vacation early to spend the day trying to destroy Bruce Ohr.
From Politico.com today, House Republicans have fixated on a handful of career Justice Department and FBI officials over the past year as they sought to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the investigators who launched the Russia probe. First, the spotlight was on Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe, then Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Now, Republicans intent on proving that political bias is behind the sprawling investigation of President Trump`s ties to Russia. Now, Republicans are elevating a new bureaucratic target: Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.
You know, they went after Peter Strzok, they were going after the top counterintelligence official at the FBI, with experience in breaking up Russian intelligence operations on U.S. soil, and going after Bruce Ohr today, they are trying to take out one of American law enforcement`s top experts on Russian organized crime. And I don`t know exactly what these targeted attacks by the White House and congressional Republicans will ultimately do to the capabilities of the Justice Department and the FBI when it comes to fighting things like Russian intelligence operations in the United States and Russian organized crime and Russian money laundering through American real estate, right?
But you can imagine how satisfying a day like today must have been for Semion Mogilevich, to see Bruce Ohr get his turn in the barrel like this, right? You can imagine how delightful that was for the Russian mafia. You can imagine what a nice turn of events today must have been when viewed from the perspective of the Kremlin.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: This is primary night in three states. Polls have now closed in Florida and Oklahoma. They remain open in Arizona, despite problems at dozens of Arizona polling locations, including problems that prevented the polls from opening on time. We`re going to have a little more on that controversy coming up later on tonight.
But the big issue -- excuse me, the big news tonight right now is coming out of Florida. Florida has not elected a Democratic governor in 24 years. But tonight, we have just witnessed an upset in a very competitive primary on the Democratic side of the Florida governor`s race.
For more we turn to NBC and MSNBC national political correspondent Steve Kornacki.
Mr. Kornacki, what is happening in Florida?
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a shocker. His name is Andrew Gillum. He`s the mayor of Tallahassee. He led in no polls coming into tonight. I don`t think he was in second place in a single place in a single poll coming into tonight.
And yet, Andrew Gillum is now the Democratic nominee for governor of Florida. He has upset the front-runner in this race, Gwen Graham, former congresswoman. This is a famous name in Florida. Her father was a governor, a U.S. senator.
What happened? Andrew Gillum, he was endorsed by the way. What does he represent ideologically? He was endorsed by Bernie Sanders in the home stretch of this campaign. If you place him a little bit, the mayor of Tallahassee.
So, what happened though? A couple things to explain this. Number one, obviously, he did well in his base here. But here, go down to South Florida. Check this out. We are following this all night. What really powered Gillum, Broward County here. You see, he ran up the score. This is not his home region in the state. And Gwen Graham did terribly down here.
Graham was supposed to hold her own, do better by her base. Instead, Gillum just ran up the score here. Also go down to Miami-Dade. This is Phil Levine, the third candidate in the race. This is his home base, winning this outright again. Graham finishing very, very distant third there.
So, Graham got crushed in South Florida here. Gillum did very well here. He also did very well in Orlando.
He did -- look at this. This is Tampa, Hillsborough County, he`s actually going to win that over Gwen Graham. That was not supposed to happen. Big margin for him in Jacksonville.
And then how about this? Gwen Graham, this is her home base. This is where the congressional district she represented was, the panhandle there in Florida. She was supposed to run up the score here.
You can see, this is Gillum`s color, this dark blue. You see some of the counties he won outright. Others he was competitive in.
So, all around, this is just a shocking performance. And what it does is it sets up a very interesting general election here. This is the candidate of the Democratic base, certainly Gillum, an insurgent here, I think you can call it.
Who is he going to run against? He is going to run against Donald Trump`s endorsed preferred candidate in the Republican, Ron DeSantis, the congressman there. He defeats Adam Putnam, establishment favorite there. The Republican establishment thought Putnam is by far more they felt, by far more electable than DeSantis. DeSantis wins this thing in a runaway.
So, Democrats are going to look at DeSantis and they`re going to say, this is a very vulnerable Republican in a midterm year, in a midterm environment that looks good for Democrats in a state. It has been a long time since Democrats won here, but Democrats look at DeSantis and they say he is very beatable.
There are some issues in Tallahassee. There`s an investigation that involves city hall there. Unclear if Gillum is involved in that at all. It`s very hazy. Republicans will certainly talk about that.
He will get a lot of attention and scrutiny that he hasn`t gotten in the last two hours. But again, Democrats are going to look at that and they`re saying, Donald Trump`s candidate, somebody that close to Donald Trump in a midterm in Florida might have some trouble. Democrats will be very helpful and Republicans now, you bet their opposition research will be going full time on Andrew Gillum.
MADDOW: Steve Kornacki, thank you very much my friend. That`s a fascinating result.
You know, the theory of this case in part was that the Graham campaign was thinking they would be trying to appeal to moderates and crossover Republicans. The Gillum campaign was thinking they needed to motivate the Democratic base to turn out. Two different approaches to how to win this thing. Clearly, Gillum had the better theory.
But when we finally get the absolute number, turnout numbers in the Democratic side, that will give us a sense as to whether or not Gillum`s strategy sets him up well for the general or whether that was the kind of strategy that helps you win the primary, and then you have trouble coming down the line in November.
So, this is one of those cases where it`s not just going to be the results. It`s going to be the turnout numbers, too.
All right. More coming up over the course of the night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Joining us now for the interview is someone I would very much like you to meet. He`s someone with a great deal of high level experience in a place that is basically news central for us these days. His name is David Laufman.
David Laufman served in the Department of Justice under Republican and Democratic administrations. Before he stepped down from the Justice Department in February of this year, Mr. Laufman served in the national security division at DOJ. He was the chief of the counterintelligence and export control section in the national security division.
Now, in that capacity, he oversaw investigations you might have heard of like the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, and before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed, he helped to oversee the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
This is Mr. Laufman`s first television interview since leaving the Justice Department.
David Laufman, thank you very much for making the trip here and thanks for being willing to come on the show. I really appreciate it.
DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER CHIEF OF DOJ`S COUNTERINTEL & EXPORT CONTROL SECTION: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: First of all, let me ask you about the circumstances under which you left the Justice Department. You left in February of this year.
LAUFMAN: Yes. I left on my own steam. I had three eventful years, about 25 years all together of public service. A lot of it at the department. I felt like I had contributed in any way I could and it was simply time to move on to a new chapter of my career.
MADDOW: In terms of being able to talk publicly about your experiences of what`s going on in the news right now, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is because I rarely have the chance to talk with people who are recently serving high ranking officials who may be able to give us some insight into how these things that we see in the news really affect the day to day work of people who are doing the work -- kind of work that you did on behalf of the country.
"The Washington Post" tonight is breaking yet another story. The president has privately revived the idea of firing Attorney General Jeff sessions this month. At least twice in the past month, he`s vented to White House advisers and his lawyers about the, quote, endless investigation of his campaign. He said he needs to fire the attorney general for saddling his presidency with the controversy.
We all watched that and we know that`s unusual as citizens. Within the Justice Department, how does this unusual pressure from the president feel? How does it affect the work of the department?
LAUFMAN: Look, you`ve got tens of thousands of professionals, men and women, working every day on behalf of the country doing their best to conduct fair minded, impartial, professional law enforcement investigations, in my case, the national security realm. They`re putting their nose to the grindstone. They`re doing what they can to educe admissible evidence under the rule of law and propel investigations forward.
In this carnival-like atmosphere that absorbs the rest of us in our daily jobs, daily lives is really not impacting them that much. They`re really focused on the mission at hand, they`re very mission-focused and that`s what guiding them I think through this circumstance.
MADDOW: We have --
LAUFMAN: As far as the attorney general goes, that`s a horse of a different color.
MADDOW: Political appointee.
LAUFMAN: Look, the president is entitled to a cabinet of his choice, men and women he can work with to carry out his agenda. But I can`t think of any policy area of the president`s agenda that Attorney General Sessions is not ardently carrying out.
So, there`s only one reason when you think about it for why the president would want to get rid of Jeff Sessions. That`s to install somebody in his place who would circumscribe or undermine the work of the special counsel`s office. And that is just a reprehensible prospect for the health of our criminal justice system and our domestic polity.
MADDOW: That -- would it work if the president decided to take that approach? I mean, let`s say that the Republican-led Senate could be persuaded to confirm somebody else without getting any promises from them about how they would treat or respect the special counsel`s office or not, if that was the president`s plan to ice the A.G. so that the new A.G. would not be recused and would be overseeing Mueller and undermine the probe. Would it be an effective tactic?
LAUFMAN: We won`t fellow until we know. Well, it will come down to the integrity and character of the individual who`s installed in that position. That moment of truth where he or she is faced with having to make a decision at the behest of the president that has some material adverse impact on the fulfillment of an ongoing investigation, then we`ll know. And we`ll hope that ha person has the steel and the spine to make the right decision.
MADDOW: The -- you said that the career law enforcement professionals at the Justice Department, particularly working in national security, people are keeping their nose to the grind stone. They`ve got work do. They`re going to keep doing this. They don`t let this stuff affect them.
We have seen the careers of a number of senior people taken apart by political criticism and pressure. And it`s all the circumstances have been slightly different and all the scandals have been bigger or smaller depending on the individuals. But we`ve seen the counter intelligence chief agent at the FBI, Peter Strzok. We`ve seen Lisa Page who was counsel to the deputy director. We`ve seen the FBI director himself.
Today, the Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr, who`s long history on international and Russian organized crime among other things is being pilloried. It does seem like people who might be otherwise keeping their nose to the grind stone also have to worry that they`ll get the crosshairs trained on them shortly.
LAUFMAN: An understandable concern. Each of these has its own gestalt specific fact and circumstances in each of those cases. You know, I don`t have visibility into all those details.
But you`re raising a larger important concern which is whether the Department of Justice has a big bull`s-eye on its back and more broadly whether the denigration, the constant repeated denigration of the Department of Justice and its leadership and the types of officials you described is part of an effort to undermine the integrity and independence of one of the most important institutions in our government. And that`s incredibly worrisome.
MADDOW: And is there a fix for that?
LAUFMAN: The fix for it is to raise the cost to carrying out those kinds of actions, by raising the cost to the people who could lend their voices now to expressing objections to the types of courses of action that we hear about in the offing, where Republican members of Congress who control both Houses, unless they`re retiring and suddenly feel a spurt of loquaciousness and willingness to speak their mind would suddenly start holding accountable those officials, including the president, who if they`re exercising their legal authority, may be stepping close to the edge of overstepping their legal authority or abusing their legal authority. Whether it is putting pressure on the department to curtail ongoing legitimate investigations or threatening the pardon of individuals for apparently partisan reasons.
All those things should be something that puts the country`s collective hair on fire. And we count on our elected officials to be a bulwark against that kind of abuse of power. They are failing in that task today.
MADDOW: Our guest is Dave Laufman who is a senior official at the Department of Justice, specifically the National Security Division. He was the chief of counterintelligence and the export control section.
We`ll be back with Mr. Laufman right after this. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Back with us again for the interview tonight is David Laufman. Until this February, he served in the National Security Division at the Justice Department. He was chief at the counterintelligence and expert control section.
As such, he oversaw a number of very high profile investigations, including the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and before the special counsel was appointed, the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Mr. Laufman, thank you for staying with us.
And I know that a lot of these matters that are ongoing investigations is still are things you can`t comment on in terms of your role in them when they were open. But I want to ask you about something that I think you were basically in charge of at Justice Department until February, which is FARA, Foreign Agent Registration Act enforcement.
This is something that we`re about to see the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort go on trial for in his second federal trial in D.C. It has come up in a number of the other prosecutions in guilty pleas that had been brought about people -- against people surrounding the president.
The question I have about this is I understand what the law is, they have to register as a foreign agent if you`re acting on behalf of a foreign government, but it seems to me like this was never prosecuted before, or very rarely prosecuted before. And now, all of a sudden, there`s this flurry of prosecutions around this issue when it comes to the Trump-Russia scandal.
What do you make of that?
LAUFMAN: Well, it`s true there have only been a handful of criminal prosecutions over the last several years. There`s reasons why it`s hard to charge a criminal violation of FARA. Some of these are technical turgid in the weeds, FARA stuff, but you`ve got to be able to produce admissible evidence that there was direction and control of the agent of a foreign principal by the foreign principal. There`s challenges in proving willfulness, which is an element of a criminal offense.
So, there are some structural challenges to proving these cases. I can`t speak to why in decades before, you know, I arrived on the scene, there was only a handful of investigations but I can tell you when I arrived in late 2014, we did an assessment of whether we were firing on all cylinders with respect to propelling forward investigations of all the areas of our responsibility, whether they be espionage, export control, or sanctions, theft of trade secrets, or investigations and prosecutions of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which was another part of the mosaic of the national security mission of the Department of Justice.
And so we endeavored to make sure that we were in as muscular but appropriate a fashion as possible, investigating and holding accountable parties that had an obligation to register and willfully failed to do so. So, I think the Manafort case that is going to go to trial in September ought to be seen in that larger context.
And the enforcement of FARA is really part of the broader picture of how the department approaches foreign influence operations in the United States today writ large, whether it`s malign cyber operations or more espionage- like activities like the Maria Butina case in D.C. or straight up FARA prosecutions.
MADDOW: David Laufman, I appreciate this is the first TV interview you`ve done since leaving the Justice Department earlier this year. I hope you`ll come back. I feel like your expertise is something that`s really unique and it`s helpful to hear from you. Thank you for being here.
LAUFMAN: Happy to help. Good to be with you. Nice to see you. Thank you.
MADDOW: We`ll be back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: A few weeks after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, this was the view of the commander in chief.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died -- what is your death count as of this moment? Seventeen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixteen.
TRUMP: Sixteen people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together, 16 versus literally thousands of people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It is true that the official death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico stayed inexplicably in just the double digits for a long time, despite overwhelming anecdotal evidence and multiple academic studies that said the real death toll should be much, much higher.
Today, researchers at George Washington University put out a comprehensive study of the deaths caused by Hurricane Maria. The number they came up with is 2,975. Almost 3,000 Americans killed in that storm.
Not 16 people, not 64 people, which was one early official death toll. But the same number almost exactly as the number of Americans who were killed in the 9/11 attacks in 2001. And ultimately, hundreds more people than were killed in Hurricane Katrina. The death toll of Hurricane Katrina is approximately 1,800 people. Again, this number today from George Washington University is 2,975.
The governor in Puerto Rico tonight has ordered the official death toll in Puerto Rico from the storm to be raised to match the numbers in this new study. No word yet from the White House. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: As you know, this is primary night in three states. Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida. We`re going to have more on Arizona and an important Republican Senate primary in that state coming up later tonight on MSNBC, once polls close there, we start getting in results.
But the big election headline at this hour is an upset. It`s in Florida. The mayor of Tallahassee, a Bernie Sanders-backed charismatic progressive candidate named Andrew Gillum has won the Democratic nomination for Florida governor in an upset victory.
Gillum is 39 years old. He never led in any public polls heading into tonight. But he has tonight defeated establishment favorite Gwen Graham, former member of Congress, daughter of former governor of the state, Bob Graham.
Mr. Gillum will become the first African-American nominee for governor in that state`s history from either party. Mr. Gillum will now face off in November against Trump-backed Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis, who tonight won his Republican gubernatorial primary easily, by 20 points. The Republican establishment believed that Mr. DeSantis would not be their strongest candidate for the general election. Democrats fully expected Gwen Graham was going to be their candidate on the Democratic side.
You can add this one to the list of very, very competitive and interesting races coming up in November. November 6th, just 70 days from right now.
That does it for us tonight. See you again tomorrow.
Now, it is 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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