Trump tweets WH Counsel will leave in Fall. TRANSCRIPT: 08/29/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Carol Leonnig, Marc Caputo

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 29, 2018 Guest: 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this Carol Leonnig, Marc Caputo hour.

The past 24 hours have been a news cycle with lots of unexpected twists and turns, lots of little plot surprises, unexpected endings. That has made this sort of a fun day to be in the news business as my job, right, because it`s up with of those days where nothing turns out the way people expected to.

And that makes it`s discombobulating, but it can also be fun and it`s humbling in all the right ways. This started this part sort of unexpected nature of the news cycle started with the news that broke during our hour last night of the big, big upset in the primary in Florida yesterday to pick a Democratic candidate for governor in that crucial state. Andrew Gillum winning the Democratic nomination in Florida has been like a shot of adrenaline for the Democratic Party base coast to coast today. It absolutely makes that one governor`s race a big national story, a part of national focus between now and election day in November.

We`re going to talk this hour with the dean of Florida political reporters who is and I say this in a nice way, he is a freaking cynical guy. He`s definitely like a -- I`ve seen everything you can`t surprise me kind of guy. He today told us that Andrew Gillum winning that race in Florida and what it means for Florida and what it means for Democrats broadly is something he has never seen before. And he never says stuff like that.

I know this is just one candidate, one campaign, one race. But there is something about that surprised result in that one race last night that has grabbed even the most jaded political observers by their lapels and shaken them up on this thing. So, we`re gong to be talking about that, some of the reasons behind what happened there coming up.

In addition to that Andrew Gillum race last night, here`s another weird turn, and it`s also about electoral politics. One of the broader trends that is happening in Democratic Party politics this year for the midterms is that there`s a whole bunch of people running on the Democratic side for Congress who are people who have national security backgrounds, people whose background is in law enforcement intelligence, military, the diplomatic corps, other national security roles. For example, just last night in Florida, a former U.S. -- excuse me, a former U.N. ambassador won a congressional primary in the district that is currently represented by Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis. Ron DeSantis had to give up his seat in Congress in order to become the Republican candidate for governor. We know he`ll be running against this guy Andrew Gillum.

But in his district, in the Ron DeSantis district, it will be Bill Clinton`s U.N. ambassador, Nancy Soderberg who will be running as the Democrat to try to flip that seat from red to blue.

Another national security veteran, a guy named Chris Hunter. He`s a former FBI agent and former DOJ prosecutor. He won a primary last night in Florida as well, to try to unseat Republican Congressman Gus Bilirakis. And another district where Democrats -- that`s another district where Democrats are seen as having a real shot to flipping that seat from red to blue with this candidate Chris Hunter.

But that dynamic is not Florida specific. Democrats have a whole lot of candidates all across the country, particularly in potentially flippable districts where the Democratic candidate comes from a national security background. And that`s interesting in terms of strategy and was that a deliberate plan by, you know, the Democratic Party, what does that say about national security professionals and their desire to get into electoral politics and the Trump -- you can analyze it from a lot of different angles.

But tonight, we have just learned from some interesting reporting by Spencer Ackerman at "The Daily Beast" that the Democratic congressional campaign committee, so the committee in the Democratic Party in charge of electing House candidates, they have just warned given a warning to all of the Democratic Party`s congressional candidates across the country who have a national security background. People who have security clearances or who have had security clearances in the past because of their past work, the Democratic Party has now just officially warned all of those candidates that they should be prepared for the Trump administration to potentially illegally leak their security clearance applications, so that those applications can be used against them by the Republican Party in the general election.

The reason for the warning is because it has happened apparently once already to one Democratic candidate. "The New York Times" breaking the news late last night that this candidate, Abigail Spanberger, she`s a former CIA case officer, she`s a Democratic congressional candidate in Virginia, she`s the candidate Democrats have nominated to try to unseat Republican congressman Dave Brat in Virginia, Abigail Spanberger apparently had her full unredacted security clearance application not just released by the Trump administration without her permission, which is illegal, but the Trump administration apparently released it to a Republican opposition research effort, which then did immediately start using that security clearance application against her in her congressional campaign.

I mean, applications for security clearance are incredibly intrusive and incredibly personal on purpose. They are designed to ferret out anything that a foreign adversary might try to use to blackmail you, to get you to hand over information that you`ll have access to because of your clearance. So, applications forms for security clearance are like deep, deep background checks and they`re specifically looking for anything that anybody might try to use against you.

So, it`s -- you know, it`s medical information, it`s relationship information. It`s very detailed questions about like, you know, have you ever smoked pot. It`s very detail information about your family, about your extended family. It`s super, super intrusive.

And the government agency responsible for issuing your clearance is obviously supposed to protect that information in your security clearance application, right? Not just because it`s intensely private. It`s because by definition, this is intensely private information about people who are obtaining security clearances. So, it`s important to keep it secure.

It is information that is of a personal nature, but it`s also of -- it`s also of a sensitive nature when it comes to national security. That`s why, for example, all journalists know you can`t file a Freedom of Information Act request to get somebody`s security clearance application. I mean, you can try but if you get anything back from the agency you`re FOIA-ing, it`s -- whatever you get back is going to be redacted within an inch of its life to protect the sensitive information in that document and rightly so. At least that`s the way it`s supposed to work.

But for some reason, the Trump administration responded to a FOIA request by this Republican group looking for information about this Democratic congressional candidate ex-CIA officer Abigail Spanberger and what the Trump administration sent that Republican group in response to their FOIA request was Spanberger`s complete, totally unredacted application for a security clearance, including her full Social Security number, her entire medical history, right? Everything.

The reason Abigail Spanberger found out this had handed is because there after the Republican Party and a PAC ran by House Speaker Paul Ryan happily started shopping this document to reporters, and started using it in political attacks against her in her congressional campaign.

I mean, that is a legitimately new thing in politics. We`re all supposed to be sort of jaded observers of politics, right? We`re all supposed to think, oh, there`s nothing new under the sun. This is new. This is new.

I mean, maybe we should have expected it anyway. It was also new when Trump decided to yank security clearances from former CIA Director John Brennan because of his role in the Russia investigation and the president doesn`t like the Russia investigation. Well, apparently, this is what comes next after you break that seal. Now, the Republican Party is using this stuff in campaigns.

We will have more on that story ahead tonight, including the strange non- response thus far from the agency who is apparently responsible for releasing this document.

If this document was released -- you know, if this wasn`t an accident, if this wasn`t something done by some rogue employee who will now be punished or prosecuted for having done this, right, of course, we should expect that this will become a huge new legal fight with the Trump administration, right? If they`re misusing national security sensitive material like this in order to dox their Democratic political opponents, you would expect that to become a gigantic new legal fight with this administration.

Naturally, therefore, this news comes at the same time that we learned that the White House counsel is leaving the White House. The top lawyer in the White House, Don McGahn, news today about McGahn comes a week and a half, 11 days after the "New York Times" first reported that Don McGahn had sat for at least 30 hours of interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors. "The Times" reporting that he fully cooperated with the special counsel`s inquiry.

Now, the White House has tried to play that off like, oh, yes, no big deal. We totally knew McGahn was doing that. We`re fine, nothing to worry about. We`re so squeaky clean. What could we have to worry about?

But "The Times" own reporting from its scoop and subsequent reporting from other media outlets all seems to indicate that actually the president and other top White House officials really had no idea that Don McGahn was cooperating with Mueller to that extent and they definitely have no idea what he might have told them. And if Don McGahn really has been fully cooperative with the special counsel`s office and has told them everything he knows and everything he has seen that they might be interested in, he`s potentially a sort of super witness for them. I mean, he`s been there. He`s been right there in the room for all the highlights, for the firing of James Comey, the FBI director, which is now reportedly a subject of investigation by the special counsel as to whether that was an effort by the president to obstruct justice.

When national security adviser Mike Flynn was having secret conversations with the Russian government and then lying to the FBI about those conversations, the person who was warned by Sally Yates at the Justice Department about Flynn`s behavior, the person who got the warning that uh- oh, big problem, the serving national security adviser appears to be compromised by a foreign government, the person who got that warning at the White House was Don McGahn, White House counsel.

McGahn was also there for the subsequent 18 days in which the White House did nothing with that information despite that unprecedented and dire warning. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned out to have not told the truth about his own secret contacts with the Russian government during the campaign, Don McGahn was apparently assigned by Trump to prevent Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the Russia investigation as a result of those revelations.

That effort to stop Sessions` recusal did not succeed. Sessions recused and ultimately we got Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein overseeing the special counsel`s investigation led by Robert Mueller. "The Times" has also reported that President Trump told Don McGahn directly to go fire Robert Mueller. "The Times" reports that McGahn threatened to resign in response and he would not do it.

So, he`s had this central role in all of those marquee events, all of which we believe remain under some level of scrutiny by the special counsel`s office in their ongoing investigation. But on top of all that, don`t forget Don McGahn was also the lawyer, the top lawyer for the Trump campaign. So, to the extent that the special counsel is looking at Russia`s intervention in the campaign to help Trump and the crucial question of whether or not the campaign was aware of that and whether they may have participated or cooperated in any of those Russian efforts -- well, Don McGahn was there for that too in a key legal and financial role on the campaign for months.

I mean, even as recently as this week, Don McGahn has a role in another key controversy involving the president and this ongoing scandal this all encompassing scandal that surrounds him and his administration and frankly his campaign. "Vanity Fair" reporting this week it has been don McGahn who has been insisting to the president that no, he can`t pardon his campaign chairman Paul Manafort ahead of Manafort`s second federal felony trial, which is due to start next month in Washington, D.C.

"Vanity Fair", though, reports that the president is so set on pardoning Manafort despite that advice that he has been considering bringing in a different lawyer to advise him on the matter or even to draft the pardon, since Don McGahn won`t do it. Well, now, Don McGahn is leaving. It appears from follow-up reporting tonight in the "New York Times" that Don McGahn is actually being fired from the White House as opposed to him resigning on his own terms.

There was an axios.com story early this morning which said that Don McGahn was looking to leave, maybe sometime this fall, wanted to get through the stuff with the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination, he was starting to think of -- "The Times" reports the president pounced on that story as an opportunity basically to fire Don McGahn over Twitter, naturally, much to Don McGahn`s surprise.

Quote, "The president`s tweet was precipitated by a report on the Axios website that Don McGahn planned to leave after Brett Kavanaugh`s Supreme Court confirmation process concluded. Mr. Trump had grown tired of seeing reports that Mr. McGahn might leave according to people familiar with his thinking. And he decided to take away any wiggle room. He decided to take away any wiggle room he might have.

As "The Washington Post" puts it tonight, quote, Trump`s announcement of McGahn`s departure came as a surprise, including to McGahn. Mr. McGahn was not aware that Trump planned to send the tweet.

So, apparently, that is how the White House counsel got fired today, 11 days after we learned about the extent of his cooperation with the special counsel. And in case you`re wondering, no, this is not normal. This is not the way these things usually happen. No other White House counsel has been fired quite in this way.

And it`s interesting that the White House and president have tried to spin this today as something (AUDIO GAP). They clearly tried (AUDIO GAP) impression that this was (AUDIO GAP) long-planned (AUDIO GAP) Don McGahn`s voluntary departure. If it was a surprise to him when he saw on Twitter that he was leaving, that`s not -- the public.

We don`t know why they`ve tried to concoct a false public story line about it. We may find out in the future. Sources close to McGahn do have ways of getting their perspective on things into the newspapers we`ve noticed. But we`ll have more on that story ahead with the reporter who has covered this really closely.

To the extent that the current White House counsel Don McGahn has prevented the president from acting on some of his most destructive impulses particularly when it comes to the Russia investigation, Don McGahn leaving sort of creates a new X factor, a new unknown in terms of us as Americans trying to anticipate trying to prepare for the ways this president might handle or try to manage (AUDIO GAP) intense legal stuff that is swirling around (AUDIO GAP) and the White House (AUDIO GAP).

At the end of next week, for example, we are (AUDIO GAP). And prosecutors are asking for a custodial sentence for Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Georges Papadopoulos. Mr. Papadopoulos` somewhat inscrutable Italian wife told ABC News tonight that despite her earlier public intimations that her husband would withdraw his guilty plea and try to fight the charges against him for lying to the FBI, she now says that George Papadopoulos will not fight, he will not withdraw his guilty plea. She does expect him to be sentenced next week. She hopes it isn`t to prison.

If George Papadopoulos does get sentenced to prison next week, that will make him the second person in the scandal to be sentenced to time behind bars since the investigations and the prosecution started. We don`t know how the president will react to that.

Ten days after Mr. Papadopoulos is due to be sentenced next week, jury selection is due to start in that second federal felony trial of the Trump campaign chair, Paul Manafort. Today, Manafort`s defense team asked the judge in that case to move the trial out of Washington, D.C. to more conservative Roanoke, Virginia, instead. The judge should rule on that motion within the next week or so. Discussions in open court about that issue yesterday suggested that the judge might not be inclined to move the case but we will not know until we see her ruling.

Today was also the deadline by which the special counsel`s office, the prosecutor`s office had to tell that same judge, excuse me had, to tell the judge in -- sorry. Had to tell the judge from Manafort`s first case whether they wanted to retry Paul Manafort on the ten felony charges for which the jury in his first case was unable to reach a verdict. Prosecutors from the special counsel`s office today filed this brief with that judge asking for more time to make that decision.

Now, if the judge grants that extension we think that means we`ll go maybe another 30 days or so before we know if the president`s campaign chairman isn`t just going to start a second federal trial next month, but he`s actually then going to go back on trial again for some of the charges he faced already last time in Virginia. So, I mean, imagine Paul Manafort`s legal fees at this point, right? And there`s this lack of resolution around the Manafort case in terms of his ultimate fate and how long he`s going to keep twisting in this particular wind and paying his legal team and all the rest of it.

There`s also an interesting and hard to follow lack of resolution around the Michael Cohen part of this case. I mean, part of it is settled, right? The day Manafort was first convicted in federal court, Michael Cohen pled guilty in a different federal court to eight federal felony charges. That wasn`t the end though with Michael Cohen. It now really seems like other shoes may drop and some of it may be federal, some of it may not.

The New York state attorney general has asked for a state criminal referral of Michael Cohen on state tax charges in addition to the federal tax charges he`s already pled guilty to. We learned at the same time that we - - we learned at the same time of that revelation from the New York state attorney general that Cohen also has already been subpoenaed by New York state authorities to testify about the Trump Foundation. New York attorney general has brought a civil lawsuit against the Trump Foundation.

The New York district attorney is also reportedly considering criminal charges against the Trump Organization which is President Trump`s business. That criminal investigation reportedly derives from the Trump Organization`s role in the felony charges to which Michael Cohen already pled guilty in federal court. And you know, it does seem like the doors are starting to rattle a little bit o the hinges over at the president`s business, over at the Trump Organization.

CNN reporting today that a second employee at the Trump Organization, someone other than CFO Allen Weisselberg has gone to federal prosecutors and asked for immunity from prosecution, in exchange for his or her cooperation and testimony. We do not know who that person is from the Trump Organization but here`s how CNN puts it today.

Quote: A second Trump organization employee discussed a potential immunity deal with the federal prosecutors who charged Michael Cohen President Trump`s former personal attorney. That employee ultimately did not receive immunity after prosecutors in the U.S. attorney`s office for the Southern District of New York decided against granting such protection.

The Trump Organization is not that big. Family business, they don`t have that many employees. Now we know that not just the CFO but at least one other person who worked there has gone on to federal prosecutors and asked for immunity, immunity from prosecution in exchange for Cooperating with those prosecutors. In an organization that`s not that big, that`s probably not a good sign -- at least not a good sign for the people who aren`t cooperating.

And now there`s actually one more piece of this we can add based on interesting reporting today from "The Wall Street Journal." One of the things that I think people truly are not going to believe about this era when they look back at it as American history, is that when all this stuff was going down with the president`s personal lawyer, right, Michael Cohen pleading guilty to multiple felonies, standing up in federal court and directly implicating the president in his crimes, right. I mean, while all that was happening Michael Cohen was the deputy finance chairman of the national Republican Party.

I mean in, the Trump era Republican Party, two of the deputy finance chairman of the RNC have been Michael Cohen, for real, and also this gentleman, Elliott Broidy. "Washington Post" reported recently that the Public Integrity Division at the Justice Department is investigating whether or not Elliott Broidy has been selling access to the president and the Trump administration as an unregistered lobbyist and/or unregistered foreign agent.

That follows earlier bombshell reporting from "The Wall Street Journal" that one of the things Broidy was reportedly trying to sell to a foreign buyer was his self-proclaimed ability to make major Department of Justice investigations go away. He and his wife offered a gigantic multimillion dollar contract to overseas buyers.

The terms of the proposed contract say Broidy and his wife would be paid $8 million no matter what as a nonrefundable retainer if this contract were entered into. And then if they were able to get the Justice Department to drop this one particular major investigation within six months, Broidy and his wife would be paid $75 million on this contract. If it took them a little longer, if it took them a year to get the case dropped or settled, then they would only get paid $50 million, presumably in addition to their $8 million nonrefundable retainer.

That will case that Elliott Broidy and his wife were reportedly offering to make go away for those very large sums, that case that they said they could get quashed, settled, ended, that case that they were offering that contract about is one of the largest alleged financial frauds in human history. It is a multibillion dollar heist from the government of Malaysia. And now today, "The Wall Street Journal" reports that the Department of Justice is looking into whether -- not just Elliott Broidy but lots of other people in Trump`s orbit have been getting laundered money that was stolen in that giant heist from Malaysia.

Quote: The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether a fugitive financier laundered tens of millions of dollars and used the funds to pay a U.S. legal team that includes former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, oh, and also a lawyer who represents President Trump. The team of lawyers and consultants working for the financier includes Mr. Christie, who briefly headed Trump`s presidential transition team, Mr. Trump`s long time lawyer Mark Kasowitz and Bobby Burchfield, a lawyer who serves as the Trump Organization`s outside ethics adviser.

Remember that, remember when the president decided he wasn`t going to give up his business and form a trust? Dot worry, everything will be fine. Look, we`re bringing in an outside ethics advisor to make sure everything is squeaky clean with me being the first president in modern history to retain his business interests while still serving as president.

We`ve got an outside ethics adviser. Rest assured. There will be no funny money sliding through anywhere, nothing the least bit smelly in this unclean office fridge. Everything will be fine. That ethics lawyer that they brought in for the Trump Organization is Bobby Burchfield who now according to "The Wall Street Journal" is part after investigation into whether or not he received laundered funds from the biggest financial heist in history which is the subject after active Justice Department investigation.

And the single best part of the story is Bobby Burchfield`s response to this report from "The Wall Street Journal". Quote: Mr. Burchfield said in an e-mailed statement that the Malaysian financier had retained his Atlanta based law firm, quote, to advise him on ongoing investigations, adding that the law firm, quote, performed appropriate due diligence on sources of payment.

That`s the wrong answer. Right? Think about that for a second.

You did appropriate due diligence? You`re the ethics lawyer who has been hired literally by the president of the United States to assure everybody that you`re the guy looking into everything to make sure there`s nothing weird at all about any of the money moving around in any of the president`s business, and you yourself end up under Justice Department investigation for being part of a guy gigantic money laundering scheme yourself in your own business?

The right response to that is not yes, I totally looked into it. I completely checked this out. I did all my due diligence. I was totally sure all that money was fine. That money`s not fine.

You`re the due diligence guy, if it didn`t work here, don`t advertise that.

With all of these various strands of legal jeopardy surrounding the president and his charity and his business and his family and his closest associates, right, from before the campaign, from during the campaign and from now, with all of these different legal matters swirling around the president and seemingly getting closer and closer to the president, with more and more people offering to cooperate, heck of a time to lose a White House council, right?

"Bloomberg News" reports tonight that among the candidates being considered to replace Don McGahn as White House counsel is that guy, Bobby Burchfield, the due diligence ethics lawyer who apparently is caught up in a giant Justice Department money laundering investigation.

Yes. You need a White House counsel? Why not that guy? Sure, he seems perfect. Who else would you pick? Is Michael Cohen actually all that busy before he has to report to jail?

Lots more ahead to get to tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I was going to talk about something else here, but "The Washington Post" has just broken one of those stories that is sort of a landmark story. You know it`s big when they note a few paragraphs in. This account is based on interviews this week with 26 White House officials, presidential advisers and lawyers and strategists close to the administration.

Twenty-six sources in this news story that "The Washington Post" just posted. Let me just give you the lead here. President Trump`s advisers and allies are increasingly worried that he has neither the staff nor the strategy to protect himself from a possible Democratic takeover of the House which would empower the opposition party to shower the administration with subpoenas or even pursue impeachment charges.

Within Trump`s orbit there`s consensus that his current legal team is not equipped to effectively navigate an onslaught of congressional demands and there`s been broad discussion about bringing on new lawyers experienced in white collar defense and political scandals. And then "The Post" gets specific. The president and some advisers discussed possibly adding veteran defense attorney Abbe Lowell who currently represents Trump`s son- in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to the president`s personal legal team if an impeachment battle or other fights with Congress emerge after the midterm elections.

Trump recently has consulted his personal attorneys about the likelihood of impeachment proceedings. Still, according to "The Post" tonight, Trump has not directed his lawyers or his political aides to prepare an action plan, leaving allies to fret that the president does not appreciate the magnitude of what could be in store next year.

One other concern cited by "The Post" tonight is that the White House which already has struggled in attracting top caliber talent to staff positions could face an exodus if Democrats take over the House because aides fear mayor mere proximity to the president could place them in legal limbo and possibly result in hefty lawyers` fees. One Trump adviser telling "The Washington Post" tonight, quote, it stops good people from potentially serving because nobody wants to inherit a $400,000 legal bill.

This White House has always seemed like a fun place to work. It seems like based on this reporting from "The Washington Post" tonight, that may be all the more so right now.

Carol Leonnig is one of the lead reporters on this story. It`s just posted at "The Washington Post" website. We`ll be joined by Carol Leonnig next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Winter is coming. And not just on premium cable. Winter is coming is this new headline just posted in the west tonight, quoting, someone in communication with the White House.

Full quote is this: Winter is coming. Assuming Democrats win the House which we all believe is a very strong likelihood, the White House will be under siege. But it`s like tumbled weeds rolling down the walls over there. Nobody is prepared for war.

Joining us is Carol Leonnig, national reporter at "The Washington Post", who`s part of the reporting team on this story tonight.

Carol, thank you very much for being here. I really appreciate the time.

CAROL LEONNIG, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Glad to be here, Rachel.

MADDOW: So this is based on 26 sources which itself feels like the occasion for everybody to salute you just for the amount of work you and this team has done to put this together. The upshot to me seems to be two main points. One that there is concern in the White House, maybe concern among the president`s allies potentially signaling through the media trying to get his attention that the president may be in serious jeopardy up to an potentially including impeachment, depending on what happens with elections this November, but also you`re reporting on pretty detailed planning or considerations in the White House to really change the president`s legal representation.

Those -- am I right to take those as the two main thrusts of this reporting?

LEONNIG: Absolutely, Rachel. The two weaknesses right now are that the president doesn`t have a lawyer representing him personally who has some impeachment experiences or some congressional experiences, and the other major weakness is basically the gutting we learned about over the last few days of reporting of the White House counsel`s office. You know, Don McGahn has essentially been announced as leaving by the president`s tweet which was a surprise to him and many others of the president`s aides. Even the president`s attorney was surprised by it this morning.

But that announcement made us look more deeply, as well and try to tabulate what`s going on in the White House counsel`s office. This is the defense, the blockers for what would happen if Democrats get subpoena power and it`s a pale comparison of what it used to be. Four of the five deputies for Don McGahn will be gone by the end of the week. And that leaves one standing who mostly has represented the White House on national security matters.

MADDOW: The news that Mr. McGahn himself was surprised by the president`s announcement that Mr. McGahn would be leaving the White House, when that emerged today, that left me feeling I guess feeling like really this was the firing of Don McGahn. It may have been that Mr. McGahn was looking toward the exits, that he was planning on arranging his departure from the White House, announcing his departure, submitting his notice as it were sometime fairly soon. He may have even been signaling when that might have been.

But if he was surprised today by the president saying, yes, he`s out, is this essentially an involuntary departure? Is this a sort of firing of Mr. McGahn?

LEONNIG: It`s not the same kind of event as the Tillerson tweet. It`s not the same as the H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, you`re out of here. It`s not that kind of see you later, Charlie, kind of moment.

Don McGahn has telegraphed to many people, including reporters, that he planned to go in the fall that Kavanaugh`s confirmation was sort of the crown that he hoped to finish off. That would be the ending of his moment as White House counsel. However, it`s just an indecorous way to say good- bye to somebody. And the president likes to do it in this manner to sort of squeeze off exits or entrances. That`s what -- that`s the opportunity he sees today.

MADDOW: Carol, you and your colleagues reported last night that the president has privately revived the idea of firing the attorney general. Do we see any connection between what`s just happened with Don McGahn with the hollowing out of the White House counsel`s office, as you just described, with not just McGahn but all of his deputies either leaving or left? Is there any connection there with the potential firing of the attorney general?

Obviously, that has big consequences for the Russia investigation among a lot of other things, but Don McGahn has been described as somebody a sort of governor, a sort of brake pedal for the president for some of his strongest impulses when it comes to the Russia investigation in particular. Are these things linked?

LEONNIG: You know, it`s such a good question because I love your use of the word governor in this instance. It`s true that there are a lot of people and Don McGahn probably is among the top three who have barred the door from the president acting on his worst impulses. However, I don`t think that it is linked. I do believe Don McGahn`s sort of message that he really was kind of done.

I think there`s something bigger going on inside the White House counsel and larger even in the White House which is people are tired. People are tired of the drama and the tilting and the careering and the daily sort of rush, rush, hurry up and wait and everything falls apart. A lot of things done on the whim of the president that wear people down.

I don`t think the departures of all of Don McGahn`s -- almost all of Don McGahn`s deputies can be attributed to any one factor. But what I hear and what my colleagues at "The Washington Post" hear over and over again is people are wearing thin. And it doesn`t necessarily mean that the president`s pushing them out, but some of the president`s ways of governing are.

MADDOW: Carol Leonnig, national reporter at "The Washington Post", busy as ever these days -- Carol, thank you very much for being here tonight. Much appreciate it.

LEONNIG: Of course. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Again, "The Washington Post" reporting tonight that the president has consulted his personal attorneys about the likelihood of impeachment proceedings. Also reporting in "The Washington Post" tonight, McGahn and other aides have invoked the prospect of impeachment to convince the president not to take actions or behave in ways they believe would hurt him. Still, the president has not directed his lawyers or political aides to prepare an impeachment action plan, leaving allies to fret that the president doesn`t appreciate the magnitude of what could be in store for him for particularly if Democrats win the House.

We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: My mother said the only thing in life you should ever ask for is a chance. So I want you to know that if you give me the chance I`ll not only be your nominee, but to be the next governor of the great state of Florida, that I`m going to make you proud every single day of the week.

So I want you all to join me on this mission. All right? And together, we`re going to take there state back, flip Florida blue in 2018, and flip this country blue in 2020.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: You see the tag lines there, right?

He pulls out beat the NRA, not just fight the NRA, beat the NRA. Health care for all, $15 minimum wage, abolish and replace ICE, end "stand your ground", legalize marijuana, impeach Trump.

Andrew Gillum, Florida Democrat, has been testing it the theory that if you want to win, you should go bold. Clearly, it worked last night in Florida. Andrew Gillum benefitted from absolutely juiced Democratic turnout in the primary yesterday in Florida, 31 percent, that is way up from turnout for Florida Democrats in terms of what they posted in the last two midterm primaries. Juiced turnout like that is what Democrats are counting on.

On the Republican side, Gillum will face Trump backed Congressman Ron DeSantis who`s calling Gillum, quote, way too liberal for the state of Florida. Mr. DeSantis also told Fox News that Florida shouldn`t, quote, monkey it up by electing Mr. Gillum. Mr. Gillum, of course, would be the first ever African-American Florida governor if he`s elected.

The dean of Florida political reporters says he`s never seen anything quite like this in his state. And given which state we`re talking about, that`s really saying something. That reporter joins us next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Here`s more of how Andrew Gillum campaigned his way to a big upset win last night that has surprised everybody in the political class and has lit up the Democratic base around the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GILLUM: What`s impossible? The son of a bus driver becoming mayor of the capital city? Or that mayor standing up against the NRA so that guns couldn`t be fired in city parks and winning?

How about running for governor and being the most progressive Democrat who would invest a billion dollars in education and create Medicare for all? Is it impossible to come from nothing, be outspent 10-1 and win?

Share this. Buy a TV ad and prove the impossible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: He wasn`t leading or in most cases, even in second place in any poll heading into last night`s primary. But then last night, he won.

Joining us is "Politico" senior writer, all around Florida expert Marc Caputo.

Mr. Caputo, I`m happy to see you. Thanks for being here.

MARC CAPUTO, SENIOR WRITER, POLITICO: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: I don`t think of you as ever being surprised by anything in politics in your state. You have proclaimed yourself surprised by this. Why is that?

CAPUTO: Well, as you said, Andrew Gillum was just really kind of down. You know, conventional wisdom holds you have to have a lot of money. You have to have a lot of organization to win.

And there was this coalition of liberal groups, a few billionaires, Tom Steyer and George Soros, and there were a variety of candidates in the race and it just created this perfect storm for Andrew Gillum to just kind of slipped through, sneak through and surge at the last minute and the shocker came on Tuesday night.

MADDOW: Now, he in his primary was seen as a sort of symbol of one approach to Democratic general election politics, which is don`t necessarily try to be the crossover appeal candidate. Don`t go to the center. Do everything you can instead to maximize Democratic turnout. Get the Democratic base excited and they`ll turn out and that`s how you can win.

Did we actually see in absolute numbers, did we see a kind of -- a spike in Democratic turnout in a way that -- that sort of justified that strategy?

CAPUTO: Well, I can tell you, he was certainly be kind of Admiral Farragut candidate. You know, damn the torpedoes. And it just caught on.

I would go around and talk to voters and, you know, people I knew who are Democrats, just all of them really loved Andrew Gillum, and they wanted a reason to believe. And in the very last minute, he kind of gave them that reason, and then all of a sudden, it came together at just one moment.

What you have seen in the Democratic Party just for years in Florida is this idea that we have to have this centrist middle of the road candidate in the middle of the road, in the center. We`re going to find enough votes to beat the Republicans. Meanwhile, the Republicans in Florida have just run these base elections, inspire, in some cases inflame, get your voters to the polls, get them passionate, get them to turn out. And the joke kept being on Democrats.

Well, now, whether they intended to or not, the Florida Democratic Party nominated someone who is using that same kind of technique that the Republicans had used but now it looks like some of the Republicans are a little nervous. They`re like, wow, Andrew Gillum really has a passionate following. We`ve got quite a race on our hands.

MADDOW: Well, Ron DeSantis won his primary pretty easily on the Republican side, then he went on Fox News today as he is want to, he spends a lot of time on Fox News, and he made this comment that`s received national condemnation when he said that Florida shouldn`t monkey it up by voting for Andrew Gillum. A lot of people seeing racial overtones in that comment.

First of all, do you believe there were deliberate racial overtones in that comment? And what does tell us about what DeSantis -- what kind of campaign DeSantis is likely to run?

CAPUTO: I`m going to take a pass on what was going on in his mind, but I can certainly say that his campaign has been in damage control. They had already been looking toward the general election a few weeks before the primary. DeSantis was kind of ready to hit the campaign trail and define himself as his own Republican and just, you know, by 9:30, 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday after election day on Tuesday, he suddenly opened his mouth, stuck his foot in it and it has just been a really good Gillum day.

Now, you know, this is Florida and we see in our elections are pretty volatile. So, I`m going to hesitate to call any candidate dead, or any sort of error like that fatal, but it certainly was a bad day for Ron DeSantis and a great day for Andrew Gillum.

MADDOW: Yes, and a humbling day for everybody who thinks they can predict what`s going to happen next in politics.

CAPUTO: Indeed.

MADDOW: Marc Caputo, "Politico" senior writer, Marc, thank you very much. Much appreciated.

CAPUTO: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. I should also mention that Andrew Gillum will be the feature guest of Lawrence O`Donnell on "THE LAST WORD" coming up right after me at the top of the hour.

More ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Five days left before Brett Kavanaugh`s confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin for a seat on the Supreme Court. Democrats in the Senate have been pushing hard for those to be delayed in part because they haven`t gotten documents from huge swathes of Kavanaugh`s past work in Washington. You might therefore assume Democrats right now would be doing everything they can to throw up roadblocks to try to buy themselves time that they say is so crucial.

Instead, last night, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer somewhat inexplicably cut a huge deal with top Republican Mitch McConnell, in which the Democrats agreed to essentially waive through 15 Trump judicial nominees. After the deal, seven of those nominees were confirmed immediately and the remaining eight will get expedited votes next week, no mas, no fuss, no taking up any time.

There have been a number of arguments today as to whether or not Senator Schumer is playing some sort of three-dimensional chess here and really he must got some amazing concession from the Republicans that nobody can see yet because it`s as yet invisible. But if Democrats were hoping to make Republicans fight for every nominee in order to put the spotlight on judicial nominations and their importance, they just did the opposite, 15 times over five days before Supreme Court hearings.

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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