Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 5, 2018 Guest: Cory Booker
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
In 1962, director John Frankenheimer made "The Manchurian Candidate," one of the all-time classic American political thrillers. Frank Sinatra as the hero, Angela Lansbury as the creepiest mother who is not in a horror movie, Laurence Harvey as the brain-washed communist plant who is inserted into U.S. politics at the highest levels.
It`s one of the greatest American movies ever, as far as I`m concerned. The original, obviously, not the remake.
Two years after "The Manchurian Candidate" came out, the same director John Frankenheimer came out with "Seven Days in May." This movie was made in 1964, but because it was thought of as dealing with such a sensitive subject, they actually set in the future. They set it about a decade in the future in the 1970s to try to not freak people out so much because of the plot that`s in the movie potentially unfolding right then and there in the United States in the early 1960s.
"Seven Days in May" is another classic, scary American political thriller. It`s about the U.S. military rejecting civilian control of the military. The U.S. president, in the movie, he signs a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union and the Senate ratifies it and military leaders freak out and decide they disagree with that so strongly that the leaders of the U.S. military plan to launch a coup. And drama ensues.
As Americans, we`ve got a great pantheon of these great, great, dark American political thrillers, these movies and books that simultaneously freak us out and also serve the constructive purpose of spelling out the kinds of outlandish dangers and threats we might maybe conceivably need to protect our country against some day, right? At the very, very edges of our Constitution, at the very edges of what we might imagine is possible in U.S. history.
Here`s another that ought to be thought of in this same breath, as "Manchurian Candidate" and "Seven Days in May". It`s called "Night of Camp David". It`s actually written by the same guy who wrote "Seven Days in May," that was the one about the military coup.
Had John Frankenheimer made a movie based on this book, "Night of Camp David" like he did with "Seven Days in May", like he did with "Manchurian Candidate", "Night of Camp David" I think might be another one of those cultural touchstones we all now know about even decades later, a movie that still entertains us but also gives us a sort of cultural vocabulary for talking about what otherwise might be kind of hard to imagine threats that might some day arise around a U.S. presidency.
In "Night of Camp David," which is the book, not a movie, not nearly as well-known, the serious problem that befalls the presidency and the country in that book is that the president goes nuts. An otherwise unremarkable senator from the president`s own party figures out that the president is going nuts because the president repeatedly invites him up to Camp David for late night chats at Camp David. And in those chats, the president very dramatically turns out all the lights and sits there in the dark and rants and raves and he tells the senator all his destructive secret paranoid fantasies. He tells the senator his rather insane plans for the country and the world, some of which seem like they might be things that the president is ruminating about, some of these things the president actually has started to hint at and make mention of in public but nobody`s taking it too seriously it yet. And the senator realizes, oh, wow, people better take this seriously.
This is the book when it came out in paperback. Obviously, the big headline there, the big title there, "Night of Camp David," but if you look at the top you see the grab the reader subhead. "What would happen if the president of the USA went raving mad? Well, it`s fiction. I`m not going to tell you what happens. It does have a very snappy ending, I can promise you.
But here`s what the "New York Times" said in their book review when "Night of Camp David" came out in 1965. They said, the portrayal of an apparently mentally incompetent president was, quote, a little too plausible for comfort. Our hero senator`s, quote, dilemma as he discovers when he tries to enlist the help of some elder statesmen in Washington is that the president turns out to be a borderline case in terms of his mental infirmity.
"The Times" asks in their review, quote, at what point is the president`s pathology obvious enough to justify action and who gets to make the decision? Who does get to make the decision? Previously unimaginable things keep happening now in our politics, in the White House specifically. And unprecedented behavior by a U.S. president means literally specifically we don`t know of any historical examples of any other president ever behaving this way, right?
And there is -- that`s not only to say these things are remarkable, there`s a practical consequence of these things being unprecedented. The practical consequence of this unprecedented nature of this presidency and this president`s behavior is that history is no help to us. History is of no help. Core precedent is of no help in terms of us sorting out as a country the range of options we might reasonably have for how to respond to a situation like the one that we are in.
History can`t help us, court precedent can`t help us. Fiction can at least help us imagine it, right? I mean, there`s Frank Sinatra in "The Manchurian Candidate," desperately trying to unprogram "The Manchurian Candidate," to stop him from being a foreign agent, to try to un-brainwash him to save the country.
In the "Night of Camp David", it`s our every man senator trying to convince the wisest wise men he can find in Washington that something has to be done about the president increasingly going insane. He finds the upstanding secretary of defense, he goes to the senior congressional leaders of the president`s own party, his own party. He goes to the president`s White House physician.
Can he convince them all? Is this the right group to try to convince? If he does convince this group, what outcome do they try to achieve and under what authority?
Books like that, dystopian thriller books and movies like that invite us as Americans to imagine what we might do with a presidency gone that haywire. It turns out, that all might have been good training because today`s news invites us Americans to consider the same.
Quote, "The Times" today is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous op-ed essay, we have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers.
And this is the headline which as past practices follow is not something that would have been written by the author. It would have been written by "The Times`" editors. The headline there: "I am part of the resistance inside the Trump administration." And there`s the subhead, quote, I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
Like-minded colleagues and I. Who`s I? The speculation all day been very fun. But honestly, we do not know. It`s all speculation. If we believe "The Times," it is a person serving in a senior role in the administration. It`s a person who is currently in that job. It`s not a former official. It`s a current official.
And whoever this person is, he or she has made the truly unnerving decision to stay in the White House as a senior administration official while also secretly notifying the public that the president of the United States is unfit to be president, and part of the reason this person is sounding that alarm anonymously rather than quitting in protest is because he or she believes that he or she needs to keep that White House job so he or she can keep using that job to secretly undermine and sabotage the things the president is trying to do in an ongoing way to hurt the country.
Yes. Happy Wednesday. I wish this was a novel.
Quote: President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader. The dilemma which he does not fully grasp is that many of his senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know. I am one of them.
Quote: To be clear, ours is not the popular resistance of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous. But we believe our duty is to this country and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institution while Mr. Trump`s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.
So, this is a currently serving administration official saying he or she speaks for others, other senior people in the administration who have quote vowed. Vowed? Vowed to each other like in an organized way? Vowed to thwart the president`s actions to save the country from him because he continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.
And then, we get this warning first about the dangerousness of the president`s character and second, about the dangerousness of what this senior administration official says is what the president wants for our country. Quote: The root of the problem is the president`s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making. Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives, free minds, free markets, and free people.
Quote: In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the enemy of the people, President Trump`s impulses are generally anti- trade and anti-democratic.
Anti-democratic in this context does not mean the president is against the Democratic Party. It means he is against the democracy.
Quote, in public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, says a senior White House official.
Quote: From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief`s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims. Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails. He engages in repetitive rants and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.
The op-ed then describes the president as impetuous, adversarial, petty, describes his behavior as, quote, erratic.
Since this was published this afternoon, there`s been a lot of attention to who the author might be, right? Understandably. A lot of speculation maybe it`s Mike Pence. Maybe it`s the vice president. The vice president apparently really likes using the word lodestar in lots of his other prepared remarks. Same goes for the praise "cold comfort." Both of those phrases appear in this op-ed.
So, under that semi mathematical reasoning, maybe it`s the vice president or somebody who regularly writes remarks for the vice president, or maybe it`s White House counsel Don McGahn who`s on his way out the door, who we know has been talking to the special counsel at length and we know has an uncanny way of getting his perspective into the newspaper without ever having his name explicitly on it. You will have noticed now that Don McGahn is the hero of every story that mentions him which usually tells you a little something about the sourcing of these stories.
Don McGahn is supposed to be the engine behind the effort to get his friend, Brett Kavanaugh, onto the Supreme Court. If you think the Kavanaugh nomination started to crash and burn today with this litany of serious allegations that Kavanaugh may have lied under oath on multiple occasions the last time he was before the Senate, then maybe it`s worth seeing this op-ed that came out this afternoon as a way to distract from Brett Kavanaugh`s sinking fortunes.
That said, if you think the Kavanaugh nomination is going well, then anyone hoping for him to get onto the court probably wasn`t happy with this bombshell op-ed since someone in the White House screaming that the president is off his rocker presumably will at least give some patriotic senators pause about doing anything irreversible on behalf of this particular president at this particular moment.
It`s also been discussed that it could be somebody in the White House communications shop or White House press shop, since this whole operation with the "New York Times" today would have required some considerable savvy when it comes to dealing with the press. Maybe. We do not know who it is honestly and the speculation thus far is interesting but it is just speculation.
But here`s something worth noting. At one point in the op-ed, this anonymous senior administration official turns reporter and stops giving his or her own take on the matter and instead quotes someone else.
Quote: There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next. A top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting which the president flip-flopped on a morning policy decision he had made only a week earlier.
So, this is the op-ed writer stopping just giving his or her own take and saying, here is something else that somebody told me in the White House coming out of a meeting with the president. If that`s true, well, whichever top official recently said to another senior administration official, quote, there is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next, the person who said that knows they said it, and they know to whom they said it. And so, if this anonymous op-ed writer is telling the truth about that interaction, that top official who uttered this quote knows who wrote the op-ed.
For all the attention trying to figure out who the op-ed writer is and the White House going off like a Roman candle tonight, calling this treason and saying that "The Times" under national security grounds has to hand over the identity of this person to the government.
For all the attention this was, this op-ed writer does not purport to be acting alone here. Quite the contrary, right? Like-minded colleagues and I.
Many Trump appointees vowed to do what we can. Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and worst inclinations. Some of his aides have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing.
All the focus on who the author might be ignores the fact that this op-ed purports to be from, effectively, the spokesperson for a group within the White House, a group that wants to be seen as unsung heroes, right? Quote: It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era but Americans should know there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening and we are trying to do what`s right, even when Donald Trump won`t.
A few possibilities here. It is always possible that "The Times" is getting hoaxed here, right? Not at all likely but possible. Halloween comes early, boo, right? Here comes the cold bony fingers of insanity and authoritarianism to grab your ankle when your foot drops off the bed, ha ha, it`s a hoax.
It`s possible that this is just "The Times", you know, somebody pulling a trick on "The Times". It`s also possible "The Times" is getting played by the White House here. That maybe this is, I don`t know, a White House endorsed effort to make the president seem so besieged from within that justifies extreme action by the president to clean house and fire lots and lots of people without too much scrutiny on any one of those firings.
But, I mean, there`s no reason to think that either of those things is what`s happened. There`s no reason to expect that "The Times" would have done anything other than their best due diligence on this in terms of figuring out the origins on this and not getting played, not getting hoaxed. There`s every reason to think this is what it appears to be.
And if it is what it appears to be, if this is a real senior administration official speaking for a group within the White House that feels the need to sound this alarm about what is wrong with the serving president, why are they making this public case now and what exactly are they trying to get us the public to do about it, right?
You can -- you can snipe these sort of comments, you know, in gossip. You can make these sort of plans and plots among your fellow co-conspirators in the White House if you`re actively working to sabotage the president`s worst impulses and thwart him from the worst things he wants to do to the country. You can do that you that without signaling to the public, hey, op-ed on "The New York Times," you need to know this is happening.
Why signal to the public? What are they asking of the public here?
And I ask that specifically because this op-ed has a little bit of false ending. I mean, this is the end of it. This is the part that looks like it`s supposed to be the ending.
Quote: There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one, Americans.
And that is very nice. Let us all be Americans again, Americans first, let`s come together. That is definitely the way that a nimble politician would end any op-ed no matter the topic. Right? Unimpeachable solid sentiment there.
But what`s the instruction really? What`s the hey, public, you need to know to do this? Hey, public, you need to know this is happening. We`re sounding the alarm here. Here`s what you do.
I mean, that closing is maybe sort of notice to the president`s supporters they should stop blindly supporting him, that even the president`s own officials within the White House say he`s not worthy of support. If that`s the message here of this op-ed, then honestly, "The New York Times" op-ed page was an odd choice to deliver that message to Trump supporters. And given the sort of soft nature of this ending, what ought to have been a real clarion message here ended up frankly a little bit hard to make out. That`s why I say this. It appears to be sort of a false ending to this piece.
Here`s the real one. Quote: Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment which would start a complex process for removing the president but no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So, we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until one way or another, it`s over. Until one way or another, it`s over.
Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution as everybody and their mother Googled today we all now know came into effect in 1967 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy to clarify the exact procedures for handling the line of succession in the case of the president becoming unable to fulfill the duties of the presidency. And there`s more to it than just that summary. But the first line of section 4 of the 25th Amendment spells out that in that instance, the vice president and a majority of the cabinet would notify the House and Senate that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.
And with the Senate and the House so notified, the vice president would then assume the powers and duties of the office as acting president. And it gets more complicated from there. But the basic idea is that if the vice president and the cabinet have enough unanimity on the subject of the president`s ability to continue to serve as president and know there`s no case law, there`s no historical precedent establishing exactly what that threshold might look like, but if they all got there together, theoretically, the 25th Amendment might be useful for removing President Trump from the office of the presidency, from within, at least temporarily.
Is that what they`re telling us needs to be done here or what they`re telling us is going to be done here?
In the Michael Wolff book, "Fire and Fury" that came out early this year, Steve Bannon is quoted twice invoking the 25th Amendment when it comes to President Trump. Quote: Spicer, Priebus, Cohn, meaning Gary Cohn, Powell, Bannon, Tillerson, Mattis, Mnuchin, virtually the entire staff of the presidency had traveled through the stages of adventure, challenge, frustration, battle, self-justification and doubt before finally having to confront the very real likelihood that the president they worked for did not have the wherewithal to adequately function in his job. The debate, as Bannon put it, was not about whether the president`s situation was bad but whether it was 25th Amendment bad.
Then, a few pages later in book, towards the end of the book, Bannon is quoted predicting that there is a one-third chance that Trump would, quote, limp to the end of his term, a one-third chance that the Mueller investigation would lead to impeachment of the president and a one-third chance, quote, that Trump would resign perhaps in a wake of a threat by the cabinet to act on the 25th Amendment by which the cabinet can remove a president in the event of his incapacitation.
So, maybe we should have seen this coming, right? That book with warnings about the president being removed from office this way, that book came out the very start of the year in January. Since then, we got the first book from a former senior advisor to the president. She chose as the title to her book, the word "Unhinged," and she was not talking about herself.
Now, we are about to get the book from Bob Woodward. It`s not technically out yet but we know from people getting advance copies of the book that it details among other things senior officials stealing documents from the president`s desk to keep him from seeing them. And even the military just flat out pretending like he`s not ordering things, that he is absolutely trying to order up to and including the assassination of foreign leaders. Military is saying, yes, sir, right away, sir, we`ll get right on that, and then just not doing it.
And that might make you root for the military in this instance, right? Thank god they`re not following insane orders from this president. But oh, boy, is that a dangerous thing to break.
There is a reason why the U.S. military not answering to civilian leadership anymore is the stuff of dystopian novels and movies like "Seven Days in May." Those kind of things make it into political thrillers because the thrill there is that they`re supposed to scare us. In this case today, this isn`t "Seven Days in May," this is more of a touch of "Night of Camp David".
Someone in the White House is trying to warn the country that the president is nuts and unfit and the senior people who work around him know it. And the end is near, maybe in the form of the invocation of the 25th Amendment by the vice president of the United States and the majority of the president`s cabinet. If this is what it appears to be, if this is true, then, one, hey, this is a remarkable time for the Senate to rush ahead to try to install a nominee from this president on Supreme Court as a lifetime appointment. Two, if they`re not too busy trying to move ahead with the president`s nominee for this lifetime appointment, then hey, maybe this is something Congress might want to look into.
As of today, a senior White House official says members of the president`s cabinet have discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office on the basis of the fact they believe he`s unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. They only held back because of worries of removing him might cause a, quote, crisis.
Well, now, something has happened since then that has this senior administration official warning the public that even though they elected not do this before, the public should start thinking of this now as an option moving forward. That might seem the kind of thing Congress would want to look into.
And, of course, the unavoidable last question here is what has this set in motion? Those 25th Amendment discussions in the president`s cabinet may have been secret before but they are public now on purpose because of somebody who works at the senior levels of the Trump administration. Why did they make this public now? Right?
This is a stark warning from somewhere near the top of the government. If the president is amoral and anti-democratic and erratic and impulsive and reckless and all the rest of it, then, what do we expect him to do next now in response to this? And who`s ready for it inside and outside the administration?
I know you`re sick of hearing the word "unprecedented" when it comes to this president and this administration, but that word is not being overused in this administration. It is apt. And when the previously unimaginable keeps happening, we do need to think urgently and imaginatively about how our country comes out whole and responsible and constitutionally intact on the other side of this.
MADDOW: We are getting a sense tonight of how this anonymous op-ed from inside the Trump administration is ricocheting in Washington. One official telling "The Washington Post" tonight, quote: The problem for the president is the author could be so many people -- that`s insightful, eek.
"The Post" says, quote, the phrase the sleeper cells have awoken circulated on text messages among aides and outside allies. A former White House official telling "The Post", quote, it`s like the horror movies when everyone realizes the call is coming from inside the house.
Joining us now is Nicolle Wallace, host of "DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE". She served as a senior official in the George W. Bush White House as communications director and she was a senior advisor to John McCain during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Nicolle, my friend, thank you for being here.
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST, "DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE": Thank you for getting on the phone at 4:00.
MADDOW: I was -- right when this broke and you were sort of handling the enormity of this when it was all emerging. A lot of people are talking about the fact today that this is something unlike anything else that`s ever happened in any other White House. I mean, there was a lot of drama in the George W. Bush White House, there were those that left and wrote damning books about their time.
Anything like this?
WALLACE: So, those were indictments of policy decisions. It was Dick Clark after 9/11 saying he jumped up and down and tried to warn the White House, the president, Condi Rice about something 9/11-like. There were indictment of policies, enhanced interrogation and others.
There was never anyone that came out and wrote anonymous op-eds saying that the cabinet had talked among themselves about invoking the 25th Amendment. It never happened.
WALLACE: Never ever, ever happened. And what`s so extraordinary in that piece from Ashley Parker and Phil Rucker and their colleagues is so interesting because these are the kinds of things that people close to Trump have been saying since he was a candidate, since he was one of 17 candidates in the Republican primary.
MADDOW: The criticism of his character and his --
WALLACE: The criticism of his character, the observations that he`s not a man who reads books, that he`s not someone who`s curious, that he wasn`t a particularly successful titan of business, that he essentially ran a family office and was television talent. People that were in the room on the day that the "Access Hollywood" tape came out didn`t describe a man worried about embarrassing his daughters or his wife.
He was someone trying to figure out, you know, is that Trump? Is that me? Talking about himself in the third person.
This is someone for whom sort of the rot of his own character is known by everyone in contact with him. Everyone -- no one thinks he`s a good guy.
MADDOW: So, this isn`t a story of him going nuts and somebody saying, he was -- I started working for him because he was all right when he got elected. But something`s happened to him in office and we need to sound the alarm. That`s the context in which people described mechanisms like the 25th Amendment or need to have something like that available in the case of the president breaking.
In this case --
WALLACE: Like the movie "Dave." the president has a stroke, he`s in basement, you would need -- that is not this.
MADDOW: Sure. Right. It`s not like some presidents have been known to pick up the bottle at times in their administration.
MADDOW: So, it`s not something like that. Something was fine and was not become fine.
What you`re describing is consistent with my own understanding of the people involved here, is that this is -- the president is not seen as being any different than he was. So why has this alarm been sounded now?
WALLACE: Because since the beginning, the people that have worked in the national security apparatus at the White House and as I understand it at the State Department and the Defense Department and other places have truly seen it as their jobs and when pressed after something like Charlottesville, they were the ones on the phone saying, you don`t want me to leave. I hear you. I hear what you`re saying about how we`re all stained with the president`s racism.
But believe me, if you knew what I know you wouldn`t want me to leave and I understand that current national security officials say the same thing in private.
MADDOW: That they think they are there sabotaging the president`s intentions?
WALLACE: They wouldn`t say sabotaging, they would say preserving the country`s national security.
MADDOW: But if you have to be there or it doesn`t happen or the president will cause damage, then what they`re doing is undermining and sabotage.
WALLACE: It`s a cover-up. It`s a cover up. And you should go to Congress. You should go -- I mean, the other problem is the committees in Congress that used to be the bipartisan security net safety net for our national security agencies are broken.
I mean, where would you go? Would you go to the House Intel Committee where Devin Nunes is basically a Trump stooge? Where would you go?
WALLACE: I mean, if you were a whistleblower in the national security establishment at the White House, who would you call?
MADDOW: So, in fiction, when we confront these sorts of conflicts, people find wise men, people go, find, go talk to the chief justice of the Supreme Court or they`ve talked to an upstanding cabinet secretary who seems to be outside the fray or they find individual lions of the Senate or old hands in the House who can be trusted, and there`s an informal sort of caucus of gray beards for lack of a better term who come together to make sure things land right.
Is that real or is that only in fiction?
WALLACE: I think that may at one time have been real when there were people like Ted Kennedy and John McCain who had a bipartisan relationship there. They may have been viewed as someone who could have sort of caught somebody if they felt like they were hurtling toward the unknown.
But I don`t know who that is. Lindsey Graham went from being present at John McCain`s funeral to basically grabbling before this president in whiplash speed in the matter of hours, not days. So, the idea there is anybody on the Hill you could go to seen as a nonpartisan protector of our country`s national security I think is truly and sadly a fiction.
MADDOW: And so, where this person has decided to go with this incredibly serious alarm is to the public.
WALLACE: To "The New York Times." Which -- I mean, the decision to go to "The New York Times" is interesting, too. That is not a journal of sort of the right.
MADDOW: It`s not where you go to speak to Trump supporters.
WALLACE: It`s not where you go to speak -- when you go to speak to Trump because we know he reads it, he rages against it. But this person sounds like a Republican to me. And he or she, I think it was described as a man, sounds like he`s trying to speak to Republicans.
What I don`t understand is why Republicans, they now know from a person high up in the Trump administration, a political appointee, someone that may have worked on their staffs, a lot of people in this administration came from Capitol Hill. They have now said Donald Trump`s cabinet, all political appointees, I think all Republicans by and large have talked about invoking the 25th Amendment. Why there haven`t been calls for congressional hearings, even if they`re in secret, even if they`re closed from the public right now.
WALLACE: Every cabinet member should be called before a closed hearing to be asked what is at stake? What is at risk? As long as there are men and women in our military in far-flung places with their lives on the line.
MADDOW: Nicolle Wallace, host of "DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE", senior official in the George W. Bush White House, senior adviser to John McCain, on issue of whether the person is a man, that was from "The New York Times" tweeting out the op-ed. And it said he, an administration official.
MADDOW: Then, then everybody is like oh, it`s a man. We at least know it`s not Kellyanne Conway, right? Like there`s all that many women working in the Trump White House. "The Times" later came out and clarified the person who wrote the tweet does not know the identity.
WALLACE: OK, well.
MADDOW: Including the gender of the op-ed writer. So, even though they had given that clue, they then were like, it`s not a clue, it`s not a clue.
WALLACE: OK, so then --
MADDOW: Won`t be long before it comes out.
MADDOW: Nicolle Wallace, thank you, my friend.
WALLACE: Thank you, my friend.
MADDOW: Thanks a lot.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Can a sitting president be required to respond to a subpoena?
BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: So, that`s a hypothetical question.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Trump claims he has an absolute right to pardon himself. Does he?
KAVANAUGH: The question of self-pardons is something I have never analyzed.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I would like your commitment you will recuse yourself if there is an issue involving his criminal or civil liability.
KAVANAUGH: I should not and may not make a commitment about how I would handle a particular case.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Do you still believe a president can fire at will a prosecutor who is criminally investigating him?
KAVANAUGH: That`s a question of precedent.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I`m asking about your position that you stated in this law review article that a president is not subject to investigations while in office.
KAVANAUGH: Senator, I`m not going to answer hypothetical questions.
All I can say, Senator, is that was my view in 1998.
I have not taken a position on constitutionality before.
I need to be careful and I need to stay not just away from the line but three zip codes away from the line of current events or politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today`s marathon confirmation hearing, senator after senator pressed Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on the less and less hypothetical all the time question of a president facing serious criminal investigation. Could he be indicted, could he be subpoenaed, could he pardon himself?
Despite Judge Kavanaugh`s extensive public comment indicating that he believes the president should basically be excused from the legal system while serving as president, that a president shouldn`t answer subpoenas, that the president shouldn`t even be questioned, today when pressed on those matters, Judge Kavanaugh gave to answer, no answer, no answer, no answer, which is kind of the thing you expect at a confirmation hearing these days. That`s typically the way these things go.
But then remarkably, in addition to the no answer stuff we knew to expect, senators also today ended up pressing Brett Kavanaugh on three separate instances in which they say he may have lied to the Senate during his confirmation hearing for a seat on the D.C. Court of Appeals. The first one which appeared to catch Brett Kavanaugh completely by surprise has to do with a former Republican Senate staffer, a staffer who was cited by the Senate`s sergeant at arms in 2004 as having helped leak troves of documents that have been taken from Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee.
At that 2006 hearing for his judgeship, Brett Kavanaugh was asked whether he had any knowledge that that staffer was behind those leaked Democratic documents. As an attorney in the White House counsel`s office, Brett Kavanaugh had worked closely with that staffer on a number of judicial nominations, sir, did you know anything about it? Brett Kavanaugh back then denied knowing anything about it. Today, Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont said he has seen e-mails that call Judge Kavanaugh`s telling that have matter into question.
Senator Leahy is trying to get Republican Chairman Chuck Grassley to release those e-mails to the public so the public can see if Brett Kavanaugh, in fact, lied under oath on that matter.
Pat Leahy also called into question Brett Kavanaugh`s testimony from 2006 that he had no involvement whatsoever in the Bush administration`s warrantless wiretapping program, suggesting again that evidence withheld from the public`s view contradicts what Brett Kavanaugh told the Senate under oath the first time he was before them in 2006. The Democrats were giving no quarter today, pressing him on his prior testimony, not being involved in policy involving enemy combatants when credible reporting suggests he absolutely was involved shaping those policies.
They asked about the extent of his relationship with a federal judge who was accused credibly of sexual harassment who stepped down from the bench because of it. He says he knows nothing about that. They pressed Kavanaugh on his noted antipathy to affirmative action. There`s a lot that happened today, from policy to his past rulings, to whether the things he has said under oath had been true.
It doesn`t usually come up in a Supreme Court confirmation hearing that a nominee is accused of having repeatedly lied under oath the last time he or she has appeared before the Senate. But that is what has now happened with Brett Kavanaugh.
One of those senators who just wrapped up his turn to question Brett Kavanaugh joins us next. Stay with us. Senator Cory Booker joins us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAVANAUGH: The Wesby case, in my view, had nothing to do with that issue.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), JUDICIARY COMMMITTEE: Sir, I tried to give you some time there. This is what I`m hearing now, sir. And, you know, and I appreciate your rhetoric on these matters.
But again, you are going to be a judge on the Supreme Court if you are confirmed and have the power to make massive differences in our country. And these are real issues. So, I asked you, was the Fisher case, I just asked if it was rightly decided. You refused to answer. I asked you again whether you believed adversity was a compelling interest. You didn`t answer that, sir.
That`s not good enough for the nominee to the highest court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: His confirmation hearings have been extraordinary in a lot of ways. Not just because of the loud protesters in the hearing room, dozens of them arrested thus far, or the united front by Democratic senators demanding that these hearings should be delayed at least till they can review Brett Kavanaugh`s very lengthy paper trail, which is being denied to the community for the most part, let alone to the public.
But also because of Judge Kavanaugh`s unusual record of public statements about whether a president has to submit to a criminal investigation while serving as president, given that this president is already tied up in relation to a number of serious, ongoing criminal investigations. During these confirmation hearings thus far, these first two days, Judge Kavanaugh has also stood accused, seriously, of not telling the truth on at least three substantive matters. The last time he was under oath and before the Senate being confirmed to a judgeship in 2006.
Joining us now, Senator Cory Booker from the great state of New Jersey.
Senator Booker, I know it has been an incredibly long and intense day. Thanks for being with us tonight.
BOOKER: It`s good to be with you, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: Can you give us your top line assessment of the status of this nomination and what you make of Judge Kavanaugh thus far?
BOOKER: Well, at this point, we`re going through hearings on the first day, he`s managed to try to duck and dodge a lot of the very direct questions that I think a lot of folks want to know. Where is he going to be on Roe? He can`t -- he won`t speak directly to those issues even though Donald Trump said it is a litmus test for who he put onto the court.
When it comes to a president being investigated, especially with the jeopardy growing around Donald Trump and being in effect an unindicted co- conspirator and the investigation ongoing, refused to talk about recusing himself when we know he wasn`t in those early lists from the Federalist Society. He appeared thereafter this investigation began and Donald Trump picked him because, in my opinion, one of the factors in my opinion was his views on whether a president had immunity or not in effect.
So, it`s been a frustrating day. What most frustrating is how many of these e-mails, correspondences and papers they`re hiding. I had a tense moment with a friend of mine on the other side of the aisle, somebody I have a lot of respect for, Mike Lee, just about some of these things that are called committee confidential. You have e-mails like the one I tried to use that literally labeled racial profiling that has this candidate`s views there but it`s something that they`ve been trying to shield from the public.
So, it`s frustrating. But we`re going to press through. We have another day tomorrow and hopefully to make a really good case to the American people that should this man become a Supreme Court justice, it`s not just Roe w. Wade, it`s our health care and access to health care. It`s what`s going to happen as these issues around the president begin to or continue to unfold. So many aspects of our lives.
The effect -- it`s a lifetime appointment for years to come. All this is at stake. And we all need to not just senators, all Americans should be speaking up about this nomination.
MADDOW: And you referenced that e-mail, that document that you are not allowed to read from and describe in public that you say is labeled racial profiling and contains Judge Kavanaugh`s views on that subject. We`ve also seen pointed reference during the course of the hearings today, a number of different times to documents, e-mails, communications that some senators have suggested provide evidence that Judge Kavanaugh wasn`t honest under oath the last time he testified to the Senate in 2006 when he was first confirmed.
With all these things being labeled committee confidential with this weird process where it wasn`t the National Archives, it was a lawyer who is a friend of Judge Kavanaugh who appears to have decided what he gets handed over to the committee for review, a lot of people have started to wonder why Democrats are essentially respecting that designation. These documents have been labeled committee confidential. You clearly believe that at least some of the ones you were citing today shouldn`t be kept confidential. The people should see them.
What would be the consequences if you just decided to read it into the record?
BOOKER: Well, I pressed that very hard today to the extent that it definitely caused some conflict, let`s say. I think that`s going to continue to happen over the hearings tomorrow.
But remember, these committee confidential, of which there are rich nuggets that reveal his thinking, reveal his honesty about some of these issues, that`s still only about 7 percent of the total documents we`re asking. Of the universe of his documents of his career, we`ve only got about 10 percent of those documents.
So, we are actually doing a job interview only knowing about 10 percent of this candidate`s resume. I wouldn`t hire an intern in my office with only 10 percent of their resume. So, there is so much more the American public should see about this candidate, should know what their thinking has been, and should be able to see the public eye before we put him on the highest court in the land, the backstop for human rights, for access to health care, for so many of the issues for the rest of his life.
And he is a relatively young man. This could affect America for decades to come and we do not know what his record is.
MADDOW: Senator, you described Judge Kavanaugh`s record on the issue of the president`s susceptibility to investigation, the question of presidential immunity, his discussions on pardons and things as essentially making him somewhat of an outlier. As you mentioned, he wasn`t on the earlier lists that the Federalist Society put forth for the president to choose from for picking his nominees. He does seem to be somewhat unusual for his views on those presidential immunity and presidential susceptibility to investigation issues.
Given this op-ed today that was published in "The New York Times", a senior administration official sounding the alarm on the president`s fitness for office, do you feel like those issues dovetail at all about whether or not this changes any of the calculus about whether this president should be making a nomination, let alone this nomination at this time, particularly when his own White House is signaling that he may be in the position of potentially being removed from office by his own cabinet?
BOOKER: I mean, this has been a stunning two days. In the midst of this debate, it`s going to affect -- people on both sides of the aisle say it`s one of the most important things we`re doing, these one-two punches land where people around this president have been sounding the alarm almost like a Paul Revere moment coming out and saying such dramatic things.
I said to one of my colleagues today, if we were reading this four years ago and somebody said it was a novel, we would think this is wild fiction, that this could never going on. There is nothing normal about this, that you have people making serious allegations that are close to this president literally talking about invoking an amendment in the Constitution about taking a president away from power. This is -- this is a very, very not strange time, not non-normal time. This is an alarming moment in American history.
And so, my job, and I`m grateful that I have had some partnerships on the other side of the aisle, people like Lindsey Graham who stood with me to introduce and get out of our committee, efforts to protect this investigation and protect Mueller, I`m hoping we can get a vote on that floor, we`ve got to really start understanding the constitutional implications, the crisis that can come to our country if we`re not prepared to deal with these crises. That brings, as you said, these Supreme Court deliberations back to the center.
And a president who in the midst of all this crisis, unprecedented, that is in effect an unindicted conspirator, more and more indictments coming out, more and more guilty pleas coming out, he is not above the law and he should not be able to pick his own judge. That is an affront to our ideals of justice which written on the Supreme Court, equal justice under law. He`s not above the law.
And so, that`s another reason why we should not be doing this. I think history will look back at this as a moment where you rushed to try to support a Supreme Court justice at a time when our country was in crisis. And the White House now, the three C`s, they are in crisis, they`re in chaos and they`re now revealing true corruption.
MADDOW: Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey -- Senator, thank you for talking to us again. I know you have a very long day today and another one ahead tomorrow. Thanks for being here, sir.
BOOKER: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: On days like this where you keep thinking we are really in unchartered waters, with anonymous senior White House officials declaring themselves members of the quiet resistance, on days like this, we like to talk to the counsel -- we like to seek the council of our next guest. Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Mr. Beschloss, thank you for being here. I feel like you`re a buoy bobbing in very, very, very choppy seas for me right now.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I feel they are choppy seas. You`re absolutely right. Happy to help if I can.
MADDOW: You`re the reason I read "Night of Camp David" because I was trying to get myself -- get my head around at least fictional precedent if we couldn`t find real historical precedence. But I wanted to know, given this op-ed today, are we really in unchartered waters? Is this really something we`ve never seen before? There have been discussions of the 25th Amendment before, yes?
BESCHLOSS: Yes, there have been but never came near to being invoked. It will be hard to do if it were because you do have to get those two-thirds of both houses of Congress. But you know, Rachel, I think we`re in a national emergency and today it got worse.
This morning, you had this nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Kavanaugh, who is filling the seat of Anthony Kennedy who was almost rushed off the Supreme Court by Donald Trump. In comes Kavanaugh with almost fringe views on how much a president should be allowed to get away with. And then this afternoon, this cry for help from someone high up in the Trump administration saying, things are very bad and they`re getting worse and basically, we don`t know if we can hold things off for very much longer.
MADDOW: Do you know of other high-ranking administration officials who have taken a step like this to denounce the sitting president while still serving that president rather than resigning in protest or writing a tell- all book somewhere down the road, somebody within the White House sounding this kind of alarm?
BESCHLOSS: Never in real-time. You know, you had for instance, James Schlesinger who was Nixon`s secretary of defense at the end, he was worried that Nixon would use tanks to surround the White House. Might even threaten to use nuclear weapons to somehow keep himself in office and not resign. And he delivered an order saying if Nixon gives any order like that to the Pentagon, make sure that I, the defense secretary countersign that.
But you`ve never had in real-time someone who is in place saying something like this to something like "The New York Times." It`s incredible.
MADDOW: The president today responding by calling this treason, saying that "The New York Times" must hand over the identity of this op-ed writer in his words to the government as a matter of national security.
Is there anything that we should look to in terms of historical precedent and in terms of understanding the way the president is reacting to this?
BESCHLOSS: Yes. That`s what authoritarians do. That was what Joseph Stalin did at the end of his life, in early 1953. He was planning a purge of those immediately everyone around him because he was getting paranoid and he was saying who around me is not loyal, who around me is committing treason?
I do hope that we`re not in a position where our president of the United States does anything that reminds us of those times.
MADDOW: NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss, I really appreciate your time tonight, sir. And please, if you have any other fiction recommendations for me that can help me keep my head on straight, if only because I`m thinking about not real things. I will always welcome them.
BESCHLOSS: I will think hard. Thank you. Be well, Rachel. Good night.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow. Wow, what a day.
It is now time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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