Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: November 7, 2018 Guest: David Laufman, Chris Coons, Lauren Underwood
ADAM SERWER, THE ATLANTIC: And that`s something that has a long history in the United States of America. Once upon a time, it was Democrats who were violently trying to restrict the electorate so that Republicans couldn`t vote. But these days, what you see is Republicans trying to ensure that the electorate is older and whiter so they can continue winning elections, even though the majority of the people in a given state don`t actually support what they`re doing.
And part of the way they do that is they run on white identity politics. When you look at progressive initiatives, Medicaid was expanded in three red states yesterday. It`s not -- it`s not that Americans don`t like -- don`t like those kinds of things. It`s that --
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": OK. I`ve got to cut you off there, Adam. Michelle Goldberg and Adam Serwer, thank you for joining me.
That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Welcome back, man. It was great to have you in Texas last night.
HAYES: It was really interesting. It was a very interesting night in that state`s politics and with huge implications, huge implications for what happens next in the nation`s politics.
MADDOW: Oh yes. I mean, seeing that Senate race, and we`re all laser focused on that, to see Beto O`Rourke not get there, but to see the knock- on effects of him getting even that close, even though he still failed, that just tells you how many doors just opened in that hugely important state from hereon out.
MADDOW: It`s incredible.
Well-done, my friend.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy, happy, happy to have you with us.
Boy, there`s a lot going on, right? It`s one of those times I feel very, very blessed to have this job.
In March of this year, a guy who was going to run for Senate in Nevada announced that he was not going to run after all. He said, quite proudly, that the only reason he was backing out was because he had personally received a call from the president of the United States, and the president`s team imploring him for the good of the Republican Party to please not run for Senate this year, as he was otherwise intending. The White House later confirmed that, in fact, the president had done that.
The president called this guy in Nevada, Danny Tarkanian, somebody who`s run for office a lot in Nevada, he`s lost every time.
The president had called him and told him not to run for the Senate this year, so as to clear the way for Republican U.S. Senator Dean Heller to run for re-election in Nevada, without the hassle of having a Republican primary challenge. So, the president intervened to keep that primary challenger out, to clear the way for Dean Heller, so Dean Heller could be re-elected.
Trump-endorsed Senator Dean Heller last night lost his re-election race. He lost his seat in the U.S. Senate. He was beaten by a Democrat named Jacky Rosen. Now, Jacky Rosen was a Democratic member of Congress who had to give up her seat in Congress in order to run against Dean Heller. That obviously was a good bargain for her. She`ll be coming back to Washington as a U.S. senator instead of as a member of Congress.
But because she had to leave her seat in Congress in order to run for the Senate, that left her congressional seat open. And this was where the Trump genius came in. Having advised Danny Tarkanian that he wasn`t allowed to run in the Senate primary against Dean Heller, so has to ensure that Dean Heller would hold onto his seat, ahem, Trump then promoted the heck out of Danny Tarkanian to get a different gig, to be the Republican nominee for that House seat, for the one that was vacated by Congresswoman Jacky Rosen.
Well, last night, that Trump endorsed candidate Danny Tarkanian, he lost that race, too. He lost that House seat to a Democrat named Susie Lee. But the president believes he has real political genius when it comes to these things, and he is not shy about doing this sort of thing anywhere in the country.
Just a few weeks after that brilliant Danny Tarkanian presidential intervention that cost the Republicans both a seat in the United States Senate and a seat in the United States House, the president waded into another race in South Carolina, where he decided that in a congressional primary in South Carolina, he would direct his followers to no longer support Republican Congressman Mark Sanford. The president decided that Mark Sanford was insufficiently pro-Trump for a Republican member of Congress.
And so, before the polls closed in that congressional primary, where Mark Sanford was trying to hold onto his seat, the president just cannonballed into the deep end with this endorsement. Quote: Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble. I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in South Carolina. Vote Katie.
Well, Katie Arrington, on the strength of that high-impact endorsement from the president, she beat Mark Sanford in that primary. The president has been gleefully rubbing that in against Mark Sanford ever since, sort of pounding his chest about how he cost Mark Sanford his seat in Congress. I am POTUS, hear me roar.
Well, last night was the general election in South Carolina, just like it was everywhere. And last night, presidentially endorsed Katie Arrington lost that seat to a Democrat named Joe Cunningham. Did I mention that was South Carolina? Just won by a Democrat.
A few weeks after President Trump applied his unparalled presidential political genius to the Katie Arrington/Mark Sanford race, which cost the Republicans a seat in the House, the president also confidently waded into the Kansas governor`s race. When Republican voters in Kansas were deciding this year who was going to be their candidate for governor, they had a choice between a sort of normal conservative Republican or a much, much, much Trumpier choice named Kris Kobach. Immensely controversial, very high profile, Kansas secretary of state, sort of a special White House adviser on nonexistent voter fraud.
In that Kansas primary to decide who the Republican Party`s candidate would be for governor in Kansas, the president once again decided he would exert his political genius and weigh in. This was in August, he announced his full and total endorsement in that primary for Kris Kobach. Kobach won that primary, presumably in part on the strength of the president`s endorsement.
Kris Kobach went onto the general election last night as the Republican candidate for governor in Kansas, and he is the Republican candidate for governor who lost the Kansas governorship to a Democrat named Laura Kelly. And it wasn`t even that close. And Kris Kobach`s dead weight at the top of the ticket in Kansas may have also been enough to cost Kansas Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder his seat, as well.
Kris Kobach lost to a Democrat, Congressman Kevin Yoder lost his congressional seat to a Democrat, as well. To a gay Native American female MMA fighter named Sharice Davids, who is a Democrat. Because the president`s political genius knows no bounds.
Republican Congressman Dave Brat of Virginia, remember when he complained during the campaign about all the women getting up in his grill? How much he hated his female constituents pressuring him to hold a town hall? How much he hated all that? Last night, Dave brat got all the women out of his grill. That won`t be a problem anymore. Last night, Dave brat lost his seat in Congress to a Democratic woman named Abigail Spanberger, who is a CIA veteran.
Do you remember all the Indivisible protests against Republican Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen in New Jersey? Last night, the Rodney Frelinghuysen seat also flipped to a Democratic woman veteran named Mikie Sherrill.
Do you remember the individual protests against Congressman Darrell Issa in California? Last night, Darrell Issa`s seat in Congress went to a Democrat as well, went to a Democrat named Mike Levin.
Republican Congressman Scott Taylor in Virginia, you might remember he got in serious trouble this year during the campaign when he and his office tried on a little scheme to fake petition signatures to get a fake third party candidate onto the ballot to hopefully divert votes from the Democrat who was running against him. Last night, Republican Congressman Scott Taylor in Virginia lost his seat in Congress when that Democratic challenger, Elaine Luria, she beat him anyway.
In Minnesota, a Republican congressman named Jason Lewis -- he`s had the whole idea of Minnesota nice, sort of straining at the seams a little bit. Congressman Jason Lewis is the one who publicly campaigned at length and on tape that he`s not allowed to call women sluts anymore. Last night, Minnesota Republican Congressman Jason Lewis lost his seat in Congress to a woman, who actually seems very nice no matter what he might call her. Her name is Angie Craig and she will soon be Congresswoman Angie Craig, because she is the Democrat who has ousted Republican Jason Lewis from Congress.
In New York state, John Faso ran ads against his opponent, who was a freaking lawyer and a Rhodes scholar, trying to make his constituents believe that his opponent was some kind of crazy gang member who was only running for Congress so he could, like, beat people up in the district or something. It was insane. It was very blatantly racist. John Faso lost his seat in Congress to that Democratic candidate, Antonio Delgado.
In Michigan, Mike Bishop last night lost his seat to a Democratic candidate named Elissa Slotkin, she`s another CIA veteran. Do you remember that ad that highlighted the national security backgrounds of eight first-time female Democrat conditions running this year? Elissa Slotkin was one of the women in that ad. Five of the eight women in that ad won their seats last night and ousted Republican incumbents.
In California, Republican Congressman Steve Knight just lost his seat to Democrat Katie Hill. She will be staking Steve Knight`s seat in the House.
In Illinois, Republican Congressman Randy Hultgren lost his seat to a nurse, Democratic candidate named Lauren Underwood. Lauren Underwood and Randy Hultgren for that matter, neither of them were on anybody`s radar. Lauren Underwood came out of nowhere and won that seat through sheer hard work and raw talent.
Lauren Underwood is going to be a national star, I`m telling you. She`s actually going to be our guest a little later on in this hour. You`re going to want to see that.
Last night, Democrats flipped control of the Colorado Senate and the Maine Senate and the Minnesota house and the New Hampshire House and the New Hampshire Senate and the New York state senate.
In Nevada, actually Democrats got everything. They got the governorship, they took away Dean Heller`s U.S. Senate seat, they came within one vote of a Democratic super majority in both houses of the Nevada legislature.
In Wisconsin, not only did Democrats take away Scott Walker`s governorship, but U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, who had once been the number one Republican target for her Senate seat this year, she not only won re-election over a Trump-endorsed opponent, she absolutely crushed it, double digits. Democrats won the attorney general`s race in Wisconsin, as well.
Democrats did lose U.S. Senate seats in states where Trump had won in double digits, and the Florida Senate race looks like it`s going to a recount. Although we did learn that Jon Tester in Montana, Democrat Jon Tester looks to have held on to his seat.
In Georgia, the governor`s race there will be an ongoing, all-out battle, where honestly we have now entered into the sort of civic nightmare scenario where it comes down to a fragile little thin margins of disparate absentee and provisional ballots from all over the state and maybe a recount and all of it is going to be overseen by one of the two candidates, who is also in charge of doing all that counting. Tonight, remarkably, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp tried to have his office, his secretary of state office, announce that he had won the election, but with no details to back it up.
Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams is not having it. She has announced that her campaign has started an all-out ballot chasing program to make sure that Kemp is not allowed to determine his own fate, and that every single vote is counted in a way that is fair and transparent and provable. That Georgia governor`s thing is going to be a big national deal for a long while yet. National eyes will be on that for good reason until that one is settled.
There are ongoing races that are as yet uncalled. It may be deep into this weekend before we know who won the Arizona Senate race, for example.
There are absurdities in last night`s results, like two Republican members of Congress who have each been charged with multiple felonies, they`re both literally on trial for multiple felony corruption counts. They both got re-elected in Republican districts. Congressman Chris Collins in New York and Congressman Duncan Hunter in California, they will soon presumably be able to simultaneously solicit new campaign contributions from their sucker constituents along with requests for additional donations to go into the commissary accounts they`ll have in federal prison.
I mean, you can buy them phone cards or you can help them run for re- election, right? Send them Fritos. I mean -- are these guys going to still get to do constituent service hours like at visiting time? You have an issue, you need your congressman to help you with, you just go down, you sit across the glass, you pick up the phone. Can you still be on a committee if you`re in prison? So, there were some absurdities.
Last night was a wild night. Veteran Texas Republican congressmen like Pete Sessions, 11-term Pete Sessions, and John Culberson, they lost their seats to Democrats in Texas. A Republican congressman from Oklahoma City, a race that barely anybody had bothered to poll, he lost his seat to a Democratic woman named Kendra Horn. Steve Russell, Republican congressman of Oklahoma will be going home. Kendra Horn, Democratic congresswoman from Oklahoma, has taken his seat.
The Democrats broke supermajorities in the North Carolina House and in the North Carolina Senate, and in the Michigan Senate and the Pennsylvania senate. The number of states where Democrats have complete control in state government went from eight before last night to 14 as of today. That means control of the governorship and both houses of the legislature.
But the story of the night, and the determinative political change that we just went through last night as a country is what happened thanks to the Democrats just romping in the House. Nancy Pelosi will be speaker of the House once again. Adam Schiff will be the intelligence committee. Jerrold Nadler will run the Judiciary Committee. Elijah Cummings will run House oversight. Oversight, did somebody say?
In 2006, when Nancy Pelosi became speaker the first time, that was an election in which Democrats felt their ascendants was a few years overdue. Think about the timing of the George W. Bush presidency, the first midterm election in the George W. Bush era, that was anything but a normal cycle, it was just after 9/11, the president had already started one war and was about to start a second. So, 2002 was one of those very, very rare midterm elections where the president`s party didn`t lose ground. It was just a singular, different thing.
But by the next midterm election, 2006, Democrats more than made up for it. They won seats by the dozen. They won control of the Congress. You know, Nancy Pelosi became speaker.
They turned on the klieg lights of congressional oversight for the end of the George W. Bush administration. But you know, right after that `06 midterm, when Democrats picked up so many seats and did so well and took back control on Capitol Hill, right after that, the Bush administration responded to that election result immediately.
I don`t know -- this has sort of been lost. I heard Andrea Mitchell mention this today, as soon as we got today`s big news and I was like, oh, yeah, that`s exactly right, that was this day, 12 years ago. The day after the 2006 midterms, you know, after we learned for the first time that Nancy Pelosi would be speaker of the House, Democrats are taking control of Congress, day after the midterms in `06, that`s when President Bush fired Donald Rumsfeld. You remember that? Who was secretary of defense?
I mean, that was seen, essentially, as a palliative move, a concession, an effort to stop the political bleeding. Voters in that 2006 race voted for Democrats up and down the ballot. Voters in 2006 were clearly furious about the course of the Iraq war. Donald Rumsfeld was not only running that war as secretary of defense, he was essentially its public defender in chief.
And so, after that 2006 midterm, the Bush White House responded to that scream from the voters by pushing Rumsfeld out the very next day. Well, now today, we`ve got something that`s not exactly a parallel. I mean, today, it`s 12 years later. Voters last night screamed once more. Democrats took control of Congress once again. Nancy Pelosi will once again be ascending to the speakership. And now today, the day after the election, another cabinet official has been fired, immediately after the elections, right?
But this is basically the opposite of what happened in 2006. This time with this firing, I mean, instead of making a concession as to what the voters clearly wanted, what the voters said they were concerned about when they went to the polls and voted against the president and the president`s party, this time, the firing of a cabinet official appears to have been done not out of an effort to try to answer the voters` concerns, this time, it quite clearly has been done out of fear, the president`s fear.
The president firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions today appears to be a defensive move, to try to stop the special counsel`s investigation before Democrats actually get sworn in for the new congress, whereupon they would have power through their control on Capitol Hill to protect that investigation. So, I think the timing of this announcement today by the White House was designed, clearly, to step on the tail of the election results from last night, to replace that story with a new White House controversy. But there`s no reason to see these two things as two different stories. There`s no reason to split screen this.
This is all one thing. Democrats controlling Congress means they can provide protection to the special counsel`s office, to the FBI, to the career prosecutors and investigators who are pursuing this unprecedented investigation into the president and his campaign, which has already resulted in over 100 felony charges and has created this odd spectacle where all these people at the upper echelon of the president`s campaign and his business are right now awaiting sentencing on federal felony charges, even as we headed into that first midterm election last night.
I mean, under normal circumstances, the president firing an attorney general, the way you would know that was a normal firing, is because the attorney general would be fired, and that would almost automatically elevate the number two person at the Justice Department, the deputy attorney general into the top job on an acting basis.
Remember Sally Yates from the whole Mike Flynn controversy during the transition and the first few days of the Trump administration? The reason that Sally Yates was acting attorney general through that whole controversy is that she had been deputy attorney general under Loretta Lynch. When Loretta Lynch left her post, that elevated Sally Yates from deputy attorney general to be acting attorney general. So, that`s why she was acting attorney general when she had to do all that crazy stuff, once people who appeared to be agents of a foreign power started moving into the White House.
All right, under normal circumstances, firing Jeff Sessions, for any reason at all, would elevate this man, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, to become the acting head of the Justice Department, to become the acting attorney general.
Part of the reason you can be sure that something quite abnormal just happened here is that the president didn`t just fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and have Rod Rosenstein step into the top job in an acting capacity, to fill the gig until somebody else could be nominated to take the job full time. Instead, he fired the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and instantly installed a new guy who has been described as Trump`s eyes and ears in the Justice Department for months now, installed a new guy to become the acting attorney general, slotting him in above Rod Rosenstein.
And the new guy will take over instantly all of the work at the Justice Department, including taking control of the Mueller investigation, taking control of the Mueller investigation away from Rod Rosenstein, and putting it instead in the hands of this Trump loyalist.
If the Justice Department`s announcements are to be believed on their face, as of right now, Rod Rosenstein no longer oversees the Robert Mueller investigation. This guy, who Trump just installed on his own say-so, right at the top, as the acting A.G., Matt Whitaker, Robert Mueller reports to him. Which means Robert Mueller`s budget is controlled by him, which means that Whitaker presumably has a say over anything Mueller wants to do, including new indictments, new subpoenas, new avenues of investigation, a report to anyone about his findings, any major step. It all has to go through Matt Whitaker now, who the president just installed on his own say- so, no warning, and he had to leapfrog the order of succession at the Justice Department in order to do it.
So, there are questions we need to answer about that, right? There`s questions we need to answer about it, and there`s one thing you need to know tonight about it. Question number one, isn`t there an ethics process at the Justice Department that might prevent Matt Whitaker for taking over the Mueller investigation, that might force him to recuse from overseeing the Mueller investigation on the basis of his many public statements criticizing the Mueller investigation and saying it should be shut down or curtailed?
All right, this is not something where we perceive Matt Whitaker as, you know, objective agnostic on the issue. Before he got the job that he`s had recently at the Justice Department, he was basically a professional pundit whose whole job was talking smack about the Mueller investigation and opining publicly on TV about ways that it could be shut down. Once you`ve publicly opined on something like that, you shouldn`t be involved as a public official.
Isn`t there an ethics process at the Justice Department that`s supposed to police that and make sure there`s a recusal for anybody who`s already proclaimed their bias on a matter they might become involved in? That`s question one.
Question two. If the answer to that is yes, if career ethics officials at the Justice Department have looked into this and made a determination as to whether or not Matt Whitaker should be recused from overseeing the Mueller investigation, would we know about that? And if they told him he had to recuse and he couldn`t oversee that investigation, would he have to follow their instructions?
And number three. The special counsel`s office itself is not commenting on this matter, as usual. But is there any other way that we can get visibility into whether or not this move by President Trump today, to fire Jeff Sessions as attorney general, to instead leapfrog the line of succession at the Justice Department and install this loyalist who is a publicly declared opponent of the Mueller investigation, can we see, are we allowed to tell whether and when and how this is a live, active White House effort right this second to shut down Mueller`s investigation?
Now, I said those were questions we need answers to, I actually think we can get answers to all of those questions tonight and we`re going to try to over the course of this hour. But I also said there was one thing I think you should know that I want to tell you about this tonight, one thing I want to tell you is that there are groups all across the country who have been preparing for months now for the inevitable day when President Trump would take action to end the Mueller investigation. Today, those groups decided that this is it. That this is the break glass in case of emergency moment for which they have been preparing and organizing for months.
And so, they have said it`s a go. Tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. local time, all over the country, there are already over 900 protests planned to #ProtectMueller. You have been reading for months about these organizing efforts about what people should do in case of emergency to save Mueller`s team, to save its work, to preserve this investigation.
The groups who have been working on this decided today that what happened today with the firing of Jeff Sessions and the installation of this new guy to oversee the Mueller investigation, the groups who have been working on this for months have decided that today is that emergency.
So we expect protests all over the country, tomorrow, 5:00 p.m. local time. I just looked online before I got on the set. There are more than 900 of them planned already across the country. We`re going to have some expert advice coming up in terms of answering those questions.
We`ve got Congresswoman-elect Lauren Underwood coming up joining us this hour. We`ve got a lot to get to. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In August 2017, so August last year, this was this op-ed about Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Quote: Mueller`s investigation of Trump is going too far. Quote, the president is absolutely correct. Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election meddling investigation that he`s dangerously close to crossing.
If he were to continue to investigate the financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel`s investigation was, indeed, a mere witch hunt. Same guy also retweeted articles saying the president`s lawyers should not cooperate with, quote, Mueller`s lynch mob.
When a bipartisan group of senators drafted bills to protect the special counsel`s office from political interference from the White House, this same person argued that would be a mistake, and Mueller was, quote, already protected enough.
That same person also went on TV repeatedly to suggest strategies that might undercut the special counsel or shut down the investigation all together.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I can see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment, and that attorney general doesn`t fire Bob Mueller, just reduces his budget so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today, the person who wrote all those things and said all those things attacking the special counsel`s office and proposing ways to destroy their investigation or stop it in its tracks, today, that person got a new job. He will now be in charge of overseeing the Robert Mueller investigation. When the president fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he did not allow Sessions` deputy, Rod Rosenstein, to become the acting attorney general, which would be the normal course of events.
He instead installed Matt Whitaker, who used to have a job as a full-time pundit, railing against the Mueller investigation. He, as of today, has been put in charge of it. What happens now?
Joining us now is David Laufman. He is the former chief of the Justice Department`s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section. One of his roles was to oversee the Russia investigation at the Justice Department before Robert Mueller was appointed.
Mr. Laufman, it`s an honor to have you with us tonight. Thank you for making time.
DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER CHIEF OF JUSTICE DEPARTMENT COUNTERINTELLIGENCE & EXPORT CONTROL : Good to be with you tonight, Rachel.
MADDOW: Am I right that it is not the normal course of events that somebody new would be installed in the acting attorney general`s role rather than allowing the deputy attorney general to step up into that higher position?
LAUFMAN: I can`t say it`s never been done before, but it`s certainly unusual, especially with such an experienced deputy attorney general as Rod Rosenstein, ready to step up and assume that function until another A.G. can be nominated.
MADDOW: Obviously, Mr. Whitaker, as acting attorney general, I understand he can serve in that role for something like seven months, under statute, before he needs to be replaced. He can`t stay in that job indefinitely. He could be there until this summer. As acting attorney general, he`ll oversee everything at the Justice Department. The Justice Department making clear that includes the Mueller investigation.
There is this issue of whether or not he ought to be recused from that, though, based on his public statements, criticizing the investigation, talking about curtailing it and ways to shut it down. That`s how it seems to me from a layman`s perspective. How do you see that?
LAUFMAN: Well, look, he may not be under a legal obligation to recuse himself like Attorney General Sessions was because of Attorney General Sessions` involvement in the Trump campaign, but there is, at a minimum, to put it kindly, a grotesque appearance of a conflict, an appearance of impropriety by virtue of his many statements questioning the legitimacy or the scope of the special counsel`s investigation.
So, now the, you know, the fox has been put in charge of the chicken coop, and there`s reason for great alarm about the future well being and latitude of the special counsel`s investigation, about the ability of special counsel Mueller and his team to complete all the necessary logical investigative steps and charging decisions of any that remain ahead. The writing of a report, the transmittal of a report to Congress, that ordinarily would be carried out, if left to their discretion.
MADDOW: When ethics officials at the Justice Department advised senior officials on whether or not they need to recuse from something, do we have any transparency in that process? Are we the public ever allowed to know either -- can we ask for a statement or can we FOIA a statement about what kind of advice has been given? And if that advice has been given to Mr. Whitaker in conjunction with this case, would he be obliged to follow that advice?
LAUFMAN: Well, there is an ethics apparatus at the Department of Justice, it`s centered in the deputy attorney general`s office, so, it`s centered in Rod Rosenstein`s office. One of Rod`s senior staff people is the senior ethics official for the department. I happen to know that individual. He`s a fine lawyer, he`s a fine person, he`s a long-time career official. If asked to, I`m sure he would produce a fine legal analysis with a recommendation.
But this is a more subjective kind of, you know it when you see it, it should be so obvious that someone with statements attributed to him that Mr. Whitaker has, should have nothing to do with oversight of the Mueller investigation. And so, unless a kind of ethics insurrection arises within the department where he is pressed upon to recuse himself, it`s improbable that he`s going to give any credence to recommendations that he recuse himself. And it`s inconceivable that he would recuse himself, because the president installed him in this job to get rid of an attorney general who could -- who was recused.
So, it`s just -- we are in this hall of mirrors here where we are now stuck with a perilous situation at the department, and we are going to have to rely on the moral courage and fortitude of people like Rod Rosenstein and other department officials to speak truth to power and to advise the incoming attorney general as forcefully as they can what steps they think he should take, that are in the best interests of the Department of Justice.
MADDOW: David Laufman, chief of the counterintelligence section at the Justice Department, which meant he had an oversight in the Russian investigation before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed.
Mr. Laufman, I know that speaking publicly on these matters is not your favorite thing in the world. I appreciate you making time to be with us tonight. Thank you, sir.
LAUFMAN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: This is a serious step by the president. I just want to underscore what Mr. Laufman said in terms of relying on people within the Justice Department, essentially to squawk, to allow it to be known what`s going on there. If, in fact, we`ve got a crisis of ethics in the Justice Department, and if, in fact, this move was done to obstruct justice, to shut down the investigation that is lawfully pursuing these matters. And that hasn`t come to its conclusions.
All right. We`ve got more to come tonight. We`re going to be joined by a leading member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also Congresswoman-elect Lauren Underwood.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Chris Coons is the Democratic senator from the great state of Delaware. He is known for his bipartisan, good faith collegiality with colleagues of all stripes. He`s known for his civility and for being calmed and cool and collected at basically all times.
That reputation is what made it all the more striking today to see the hot fire which Chris Coons responded when news broke today that the president had fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and instead installed a White House loyalist named Matt Whitaker to take over the operations of the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation, specifically.
He responded online, quote: If there`s any indication that the president has fired the attorney general and named Mr. Whitaker as acting attorney general to influence or end special counsel Mueller`s investigation, that would make today`s action an historic attack on the rule of law. Quote, that is a red line, which President Trump has been warned not to cross by Republicans and Democrats alike for months.
Joining us now is Senator Chris Coons from the great state of Delaware, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator Coons, thank you for making time to join us tonight, sir.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: You called this action by the president today a red line if this appointment was made in order to influence or end the special counsel`s investigation.
Can you tell me what you mean by that?
COONS: That`s right. If he forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him not with Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, but instead with a loyalist, Matthew Whitaker, in order to have Acting Attorney General Whitaker squeeze or end the investigation by Robert Mueller, that would be an obstruction of justice action. And there have been some strong words by senators, both Republican and Democrat, for months, cautioning President Trump against interfering with the Mueller investigation.
Many senators have said, if the president is innocent, it`s in his best interest to have this investigation go all the way to its conclusion. There were some more statements today, by Senator-elect Mitt Romney, by Senator Lamar Alexander, by Senator Susan Collins, by many Democrats, as well, saying the president should not interfere. But if, as your previous guest indicated, there`s a decisive step taken to curtail the scope and the reach, the funding or the support of the Mueller investigation, that would be a decisive moment and we would need to match these words with action.
I`m calling on the Senate to take up and vote on and pass the bipartisan bill that I introduced last year, with three other senators. It`s already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a strong bipartisan vote of 14-7. It`s ready for action on the floor. And this strikes me as the sort of moment that should precipitate bipartisan action in the Senate.
MADDOW: The kind of worry that you`re describing there, that action should be taken to stop the Mueller investigation, how would you know if that had happened? I mean, one of the things that has become a hallmark of this investigation is that the special counsel`s office is incredibly tight- lipped. We know them by their public actions and not by their words. If there was action taken, even today already within the Justice Department, to kybosh some element of the investigation, or to divert it or slow something down, how would we know?
COONS: That`s part of my concern here, Rachel, is that we don`t have any direct way to know that. We`d only find out about it if there were people directly connected with the Mueller probe who allowed that to be shared. And as you mentioned, they`ve been extraordinarily tight-lipped and have controlled information from getting outside that probe.
Robert Mueller is a decorated combat veteran. He`s a life-long Republican. He`s a by the book federal law enforcement leader. He`s run a very tight ship and he hasn`t had leaks, unlike virtually every previous independent investigation like this.
So, we might not know, and we might not be able to act in time, to defend that investigation.
I`ll just remind you, the only reason we`re having this conversation is because President Trump fired FBI Director Jim Comey, and then went on television and said he did so in order to stop the Russia probe. That`s what led to the appointment of a special counsel. It was broadly supported in a bipartisan way last year. This is likely going to be the kind of moment when we have to put up or shut up, and it`s going to call for actions by senators of both parties.
MADDOW: If Mr. Whitaker has been told or is soon advised by ethics lawyers at the Justice Department that he cannot ethically oversee this investigation, his public statements criticizing the investigation and, in fact, declare his bias in a way that he can`t ethically oversee it, if he defies that advice, or if we come to learn that he received that advice and ignored it, does the Judiciary Committee or any other element of the U.S. government have any way to correct that?
COONS: Not that I`m aware of. I mean, we could certainly call acting Attorney General Whitaker in front of the Judiciary Committee, I think he should appear in front of us to answer questions about his intentions with regard to the Mueller probe and other issues. We have an oversight responsibility where there`s a new acting attorney general. I think it would be completely appropriate for Chairman Grassley to invite him to come over and answer some of these questions.
But in the minority, Democrats on the committee can`t compel him to come and testify. We can simply raise the issue, press the issue. One of my concerns here is that as we move into the next Congress, our margin in the Senate may get worse. We`ve lost probably two seats, maybe three in the Senate in terms of the Democrat/Republican balance. And that may affect our ability to bring together a bipartisan group that will compel action even further.
MADDOW: Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sir, thank you. I know it`s a very busy time. Thanks for being with us tonight.
COONS: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. As I mentioned, tomorrow, a lot of groups across the country who have been preparing for this moment are calling for protests across the country. More than 900 are planned. They`re for 5:00 local time Thursday, tomorrow afternoon.
It remains to be seen how many people will turn out for those. The question is whether or not this was the break glass moment. Groups who have been organizing for this say that it is and it will be interesting to see how many people turn out tomorrow to try to protect the Mueller investigation.
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Lauren Underwood grew up in Naperville, Illinois. When she was 8 years old, she was diagnosed with a chronic heart condition. That`s what made her want to become a nurse, watching her own caregivers back when she was a little kid.
Lauren Underwood became a nurse. She ended up taking her nursing experience to the Obama administration, where she worked at the Health and Human Services Department helping to implement the Affordable Care Act.
Back home in Illinois, Lauren Underwood`s congressman, Republican Randy Hultgren, voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and that`s when things started to change in Lauren Underwood`s life.
(BEGI VIDEO CLIP)
LAUREN UNDERWOOD (D-IL), CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: Good morning, everyone. It`s Lauren Underwood. We are here in Naperville.
Hi. This is Lauren Underwood.
I want to remind you to vote. I`m Lauren Underwood.
I`m licensed as a nurse. I spent my career working to expand health care coverage in communities across the country.
I`m Lauren Underwood. Nice to meet you.
The 2016 election happened, I was faced with this America on TV that didn`t look anything like what I knew.
In a district that`s never elected a woman, seeing a young woman of color is certainly a lot for some people. No one invited us to this table.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m so proud of you.
UNDERWOOD: No one. And I think that`s also what makes it so powerful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOWE After the 2016 presidential election, with her hometown congressman voting to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, Lauren Underwood decided she would run for Congress. Thirty-two years old, never run for anything. She`s from the 14th district in Illinois, which is a solid red part of the state, a Trump district.
Eighty-six percent of that district is white. Voters there have never sent a person of color to Congress. They have never sent a woman, either.
By all accounts, Lauren Underwood was a pipe dream to fill that seat held by the Republican who had voted to take away her health care. Until she wasn`t, last night, Lauren Underwood won. She turfed out a four-time Republican congressman, 20 years her senior in a race everybody told her she would lose.
Today, "The Chicago Sun-Times", look at that, put her photo on the front page, right next to this headline. "House Flippers." She`s not a dolphin. She`s a congresswoman-elect.
Joining us now is Lauren Underwood, congresswoman-elect from the 14th district in Illinois.
Congratulations, Ms. Underwood. Thank you so much for being with us.
UNDERWOOD: Thank you, Rachel. I`m so honored to be on.
MADDOW: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you tonight is because I learned today after you won that you beat six men in the primary to get this spot on the ballot?
UNDERWOOD: I did. And in that primary election, we had a field of seven. I got 57 percent of the vote in that primary, which is pretty unprecedented and went on to win the general election last night against Congressman Hultgren.
MADDOW: What is the secret to your success? To winning that primary, to winning in a Trump district, to unseating a four-term incumbent, to what do you attribute this?
UNDERWOOD: Well, when we launched this campaign, we had a goal of being everywhere in our district all the time. You see, this is a seat that was formerly held by the U.S. speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert, and a Democrat succeeded him, Bill Foster, but it had been a long time since there was real grassroots Democratic involvement, training and an opportunity for a candidate to be able to travel to the rural and suburban parts of the community and really build and mobilize a campaign that could be successful.
And so, we said that we were going to go to even the most rural parts of the district, maybe that hadn`t been touched by a Democrat in 10 years, we had farmers tell us that no Democrat had knocked on their door in that time frame. And we showed up and showed up and showed up in those living rooms, in those fields, and in those cul-de-sacs to engage our neighbors.
MADDOW: You were 30 years old when you decided to run for this seat. You are 32 now. You`re going to be one of the youngest people elected to Congress. And as an African-American woman, as a woman of color, running in this district -- I mean, that itself was such -- it has to have been such a steep climb.
I mean, I mentioned in the introduction, 86 percent white resident. You`re running as a first time candidate, as a woman, as a young woman, as an African-American woman. I want to know whether or not that was daunting for you, whether that was a factor in terms of your confidence and in your game plan.
UNDERWOOD: Well, this is my community. It`s my home. My family moved to Naperville when I was 3 years old. So, this is a community that taught me to be a black woman in the world. And so, I certainly never -- it never crossed my mind that I was somehow not a good fit or unqualified to seek this seat and run for this position.
And so, I stepped forward. And with the help of so many women in our district, we were able to do what many folks had never imagined would be possible. And I`m really proud that our election day was 50 years and one day after Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress and I will be upon swearing in, the youngest black woman ever to serve in the United States Congress.
MADDOW: What are your priorities for when you get there? Do you have a dream in terms of committees, in terms of legislation to work on? Obviously, you are getting there as part of a new Democratic majority. There`s no Democratic majority in the Senate to work as a partner, but there will be Democratic control of those committees and you`re coming in as a bit of a star.
UNDERWOOD: Oh, thank you. Well, I am really focused on health care. It has emerged as the number one issue in the election across my community because premium prices are high, prescription drug prices are high, and so many families across northern Illinois are feeling squeezed. As a nurse, I know how important it is to protect pre-existing conditions. I also have a pre-existing condition myself and so this health care agenda, lowering prices, making sure that we can expand coverage and include real mental health care reforms are the things I want to immediately begin tackling.
MADDOW: Illinois Congresswoman-elect Lauren Underwood, it`s such a pleasure to have you here. It was a joy to follow your campaign from across the country. And good luck to you. Please keep us apprised. Stay in touch. We`d love to see how this goes for you.
UNDERWOOD: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right, thanks. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: One more piece of breaking election news tonight. What appears poised to be another Republican to Democratic flip in the House, and this is a weird one. Just check this out.
Just in the last hour, the New Mexico secretary of state adjusted the vote count in a race we had previously thought was decided. This is the second district in New Mexico, a seat that was left open when Republican Steve Pearce left it to run for governor of new Mexico last night, he lost. The reason I say this is a weird one is because last night, the Republican in this race, Yvette Herrell, she was the projected winner. She even declared victory around 10:30 p.m. last night.
We should have known something was up, though, because the Democrat in the race, Democrat named Xochitl Torres Small, she didn`t concede. She said she was waiting on votes that hadn`t yet been counted.
Well, sure enough, as of the right now, local station KOB is reporting that the race has apparently turned, thanks to 8,000 ballots from a single county that hadn`t been posted or counted last night. Apparently, there`s still another 100 ballots that need to be hand-counted plus another 1,000 provisional ballots to be tallied.
But as it stands right now with the addition of those 8,000 ballots nobody knew about last night, it kind of looks like a Republican hasn`t won in New Mexico at all. That in fact Xochitl Torres Small has a 3,000 vote lead.
Xochitl Torres Small, if she pulls this out, she will become the first woman to represent New Mexico`s second congressional district, and she will become yet another Democrat who has taken the seat previously held by a Republican incumbent. Again, that one not yet called but sort of uncalled at this point.
That does it for us tonight. See you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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