IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump renews attacks on Mueller investigation. TRANSCRIPT: 11/15/18, The Rachel Maddow Show

Trump renews attacks on Mueller investigation. TRANSCRIPT: 11/15/18, The Rachel Maddow Show

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  On time, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero. 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Zero, zero, zero, I made sure to do it tonight.

MADDOW:  That was amazing.  I have a cast of characters here ready to jump into the frame if need be. 

Thank you, my friend. 

HAYES:  All right, good night. 

MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

It`s a busy news night.  Very happy to have you here. 

We`re going to start tonight with a puzzle.  Do not worry.  It`s a really easy one.  You are definitely going to figure out the answer right away before we even get to the first commercial. 

In October of last year, October 17th, there was a confirmation hearing in Washington for a sort of high profile Trump judicial nominee, somebody who the Trump administration had picked to be a new high-ranking federal judge, a guy named Greg Katsas.  He had been a Supreme Court clerk for Clarence Thomas.  He had worked in the George W. Bush Justice Department.  He had worked at the big Republican law firm Jones Day. 

When the Trump administration started, Greg Katsas moved into the White House, to the White House counsel`s office.  He worked as a deputy in that office under Don McGahn who also worked in the George W. Bush administration, who also worked at that Republican law firm, Jones Day. 

Gregory Katsas was not particularly more controversial than any other Trump nominated judge.  If you squint, he kind of look likes all of them, but with his kind of resume and the kinds of connections that he had and his 100 percent hard-line conservative record, he really was the kind of guy that Republicans in the Trump administration have been living to put on the courts.  And in this case, the reason Katsas` nomination was little more high profile than most is they wanted him for a particularly important court.  They wanted to put Katsas on the federal appeals court that sits in Washington, D.C. 

There is federal appeals courts all around the country in all the different geographic circuits.  But the one that sits in D.C. is sometimes called the second highest court in the land because that appeals court that sits in D.C., that`s the one that hears lots and lots of federal policy issues and national security issues and conceivably, that is the appeals court that would also hear issues related to the president`s own personal legal troubles if it ever came that. 

So, lots of Supreme Court justices come directly to the Supreme Court from the D.C. Appeals Court.  D.C. Appeals Court hears a whole lot of very significant and high profile cases.  Appointments to that court are seen as being more important than appointments to other courts because of the kinds of cases that go to that particular court. 

At Gregory Katsas` confirmation hearings back in October, senators felt the need to ask him what he worked on during his time in the Trump White House.  They wanted to get him on the record on all the stuff that he had worked on for Trump during his confirmation process, in part so that once he ended up on that really important appeals court, there would be a clear black and white congressional record of all the issues where Katsas would have to recuse himself as a judge, right?  As a judge, you can`t rule on stuff if you had a hand in creating that thing at some earlier point in your career. 

So at Katsas` confirmation hearing, they needed to know what he`d done for Trump.  And they asked him, you know, did you work on the Muslim ban?  Turns out he worked on the Muslim ban.  Did you work on the controversial and ultimately sort of fake voter commission fraud that was set up and collapsed at the White House?  Yes, apparently he did some work on that as well. 

How about the Mueller investigation, the Russia investigation, did you do any work on that, sir?  White House counsel`s office where Greg Katsas worked for Trump, they, of course, had a significant role dealing with the demands of the Russia investigation.  So, senators asked him, Republican and Democratic senators asked him if he ever worked on that stuff in the Trump White House. 

Republican Senator Mike Lee just asked Greg Katsas bluntly if he had been part of that investigation. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH:  Have you been interviewed by the special counsel or has the special counsel asked for the opportunity to interview you? 

GREG KATSAS, FEDERAL JUDGE NOMINEE:  I have not been interviewed by the special counsel nor have I been asked to be interviewed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Good to have that on record.  This judicial nominee says he basically wasn`t a target of the Mueller investigation.  He hasn`t been called to be a witness in that investigation.  They haven`t asked to interview him.  That`s good to know. 

Then Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein asked the sort of next obvious question.  OK, you were not personally questioned in the investigation, but did you work on the issue at all in Trump`s White House in the White House counsel`s office?  Did the Russia investigation, the Mueller investigation come up in the course of your time working for Trump? 

And here`s what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Intelligence committees, possibility -- the White House counsel`s office in January 2017, have you worked or advised on any matters related to special counsel Mueller`s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election? 

KATSAS:  I have given legal advice on a few discrete legal questions arising out of the investigation.  I have no knowledge of any underlying facts regarding Russian interference. 

FEINSTEIN:  Can you tell what those legal questions were? 

KATSAS:  I`m sorry, I cannot. 

FEINSTEIN:  And why can you not? 

KATSAS:  This goes back --

FEINSTEIN:  Are you asserting grounds of privilege?  And what are those grounds? 

KATSAS:  I am saying that the executive branch needs confidentiality in order for the president to receive confidential advice, in order for lawyers to provide confidential advice. 

(ED VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So this man is being nominated to the appeals court in D.C.  He says under oath, no, I myself haven`t been questioned by Mueller, but yes, in the White House, I worked on this investigation.  No, I don`t want the say which parts of it I worked on.  The president is entitled to confidential legal advice on a matter like this. 

But at that point, senators are kind of like, OK, so you worked on it, but you won`t say what?  Come on, man, right?  Tell us.  This is important. 

This stuff could end up before you as a judge, particularly given the specific court you`re to be a judge on.  We need to know if you`re going to have to recuse.  We want you on the record now about whether you`re going to recuse when these issues inevitably end up in your court. 

So then another senator, another Democrat Richard Blumenthal decides he`s going to push on this, and he is going to do it point by point.  So, this guy`s not going to say which part of the Russia investigation he worked on for Trump?  Well, let`s ask him piece by piece, specific point by specific point.  We`ll try to get a yes or no question, a yes or no answer from him on each piece of it, and then maybe we can puzzle it all together and figure out what he worked on, even if just by process of elimination. 

Did you work on the James Comey firing, Mr. Katsas?  Did you work on the Paul Manafort part of the scandal, Mr. Katsas?  Did you work on the White House handling over documents that were demanded by the special counsel`s office?  Come on, man, what was it?  What exactly did you do? 

So, Blumenthal walks him through point by point.  So, it`s this process of elimination puzzle to fight fig out exactly what the guy worked on.  And it basically becomes this very, very nervous, very tense sort of game of hide- and-seek. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT:  Have you been involved at all in advising the president on the firing of James Comey as director of the FBI? 

KATSAS:  I was not. 

BLUMENTHAL:  Have you been involved in any discussions involving dealings with Paul Manafort or his role in the campaign or subsequently in the special counsel`s investigation involving him? 

KATSAS:  I was not. 

BLUMENTHAL:  Have you been involved in any discussions within the White House relating to the special counsel`s work? 

KATSAS:  Relating to the special counsel`s work, yes, as I testified earlier, I have given legal advice on a few discrete questions presented by the special counsel`s work, but I do not have knowledge of the underlying facts that the special counsel is investigating. 

BLUMENTHAL:  Would you tell the committee what issues you have been involved in advising on, without giving the content of your advice? 

KATSAS:  No, I`m sorry.  I cannot do that, both because that would inevitably tend to reveal the substance of the advice. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  You can see this kind of escalating tension here, right?  This kind of crescendo of visible nervousness as Senator Blumenthal gets him to deny or confirm his work on various parts of the Russia investigation for the Trump White House, stuff that he did or didn`t give Trump advice on with regard to the Russia -- as this goes on, you can sort of physically sense the impact of these questions.  You can see the impact as Blumenthal keeps getting more and more specific. 

What did you do, man?  What did you work on? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLUMENTHAL:  Have you ever advised any official in the White House to provide or withhold documents? 

KATSAS:  Documents.  I`m just trying -- just running the tape here.  Not that I can recall. 

BLUMENTHAL:  Would you recuse yourself from litigation involving the special counsel, for example, litigation that would involve criminal proceedings or production of documents or any other discovery issues involving the special counsel where his request or demands for documents or testimony might be contested? 

KATSAS:  To the extent that the case touched upon -- the specific case before me would touch upon anything I worked on in the White House, yes, I would. 

BLUMENTHAL:  Well, let me just say very emphatically --

KATSAS:  Right. 

BLUMENTHAL:  -- since you are unable or unwilling to say exactly what the advice relating the special counsel`s activities touched upon, my strong suggestion is that you would have to recuse yourself to any and all matters involving special counsel. 

KATSAS:  Perhaps.  Perhaps.  The question would be -- so the first question would be did I work on the matter.  And as I told you with regard to your case, any matter that I worked on very easy open and shut recuse. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Yes, I worked on the Russia investigation.  No, not on firing Comey, no, not on Manafort.  Yes, on some other stuff, but I don`t want to say what it was.  Maybe it was the documents I talked to them.  I`m just running the tape here. 

I don`t know if anything -- if there was anything I touched on I -- I would recuse -- I would definitely, I don`t -- I don`t want to say. 

That was October.  Those were conference confirmation hearing.  Gregory Katsas was confirmed.  He is now on the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. on that supposed second highest court in the land.

And now, today something appears to be going on in that court, and this is something we`ve been keeping an eye on for a couple of week news.  Our suspicions appear to be sort of bearing out.  We`re not allowed to see overtly what is happening in this case because all the briefs related to this case are under seal.  All the hearings they have had so far in this case and the next hearing they`re expected to have on this case have all been closed-door hearings, and apparently will continue to be closed door hearing. 

We are not even allowed to see who the people are involved in this case.  We are not allowed to know who the parties are in this case.  All we`re allowed to see is that it pertains to a grand jury in Washington, D.C. 

The break in our understanding of this case came from when reporters from CNN, who are basically staking out the federal courthouse in D.C., they saw lawyers from Robert Mueller`s office, from special counsel`s office entering and leaving sealed court hearings in one federal courtroom and going in and out of the clerk`s office at that courthouse, dealing with filings related to this secret sealed case.  It is something that`s been happening in federal court in D.C.  It`s closed door hearing only.  It is sealed filings only. 

When there have been conflicts and decisions and then appeals between Mueller and whoever is on the other side of this case, those conflicts have very quickly escalated out of the district court in D.C. up to that second highest court in the land, up to the D.C. appeals court, where matters related to this secret case have been on a miraculously expedited calendar.  These matters essentially have been heard instantly, and they have been prioritized over all sorts of other important national significance cases in that court. 

What is this matter that the special counsel`s office is litigating and who are they litigating against and why is it being treated like this?  We cannot report it directly.  We don`t know exactly what it is.  We can`t see any of the materials from the case, but it definitely involves Mueller. 

And the one judge on that court on that appeals court who has recused himself on this issue and is not sitting in on any aspect of this case is the old "I`m replaying the tape here" guy.  It`s Greg Katsas, it`s one Trump appointee on that D.C. Appeals Court.  And he did, after all of that badgering at his confirmation hearing, after all of the efforts to pin him down, he did after all pledge to senators that he would recuse himself from anything he had worked on in the Trump White House, including specifically anything that he had worked on in the Russia investigation, although he would not say exactly what that was. 

Remember, he said he didn`t work on the Manafort part of the Russia investigation.  He didn`t work on the James Comey being fired part of that investigation, but he did work on some other stuff that involved him advising the president about Mueller`s probe.  And for whatever reason, he is the one judge who is recused now from this mystery case that today was the occasion for a roughly 30-page-long brief just getting filed by the mystery lawyers.  There is the lawyers from Mueller`s team on one side.  There is mystery lawyers on the other side representing whoever this mystery person is who is in a big secret fight with the special counsel over a matter that relates to Mueller`s grand jury, and we do not yet know what it is. 

There is obviously a lot going on right now in the news, right?  Another couple of races called today in the midterms today. 

The Democratic Party is up to I now believe 36 pickups in the House of Representatives.  They appear to have flipped 36 Republican seats and counting.  That`s exactly the kind of Democratic wave that Democrats were hoping for and Republicans were saying would never happen in this midterm election.  There are about a half dozen more seats that are yet to be called, but Democrats are already up to 36 confirmed flips. 

In the Florida recount, the senator and governor`s race there`s, that went legally crazy there today.  The state refusing to accept the vote totals from one big county`s recount because the vote totals arrived two minutes after today`s official deadline because the county was having trouble wrangling with the state`s official website for submitting this stuff.  And whether or not you want to be a stickler for coming in within two minutes of the deadline, what that means is the state today decided to purposely count what is known to be an inaccurate vote tally from one county while these major statewide races are within a hair`s breath in terms of who is going to win.  So, we`ll have more on that coming up.  That`s a fast developing story at this point. 

Inside the administration, inside the White House, I don`t know if it`s a reaction to the Democratic Party`s big gains in last week`s elections, but things do seem wobbly and emotional.  Inside the White House, the president had this terrible trip abroad this weekend, skipping the commemoration of American troop deaths in World War I which was ostensibly the whole point of his whole trip.  It`s the reason he went there, but then he skipped the commemoration because it was raining. 

He has since reportedly been railing against other people in the White House because he is looking for somebody else to blame for that decision, because apparently the president did not realize it would look bad that he canceled the commemoration of American war dead because he was afraid of being out in the rain.  Immediately upon him returning home from what is -- has been a very embarrassing trip, the office of the president`s wife, the first lady was allowed to publicly fire the deputy national security adviser, which is still almost too bizarre to put in any framework whatsoever other than to just point at it and open your mouth and say, my god, what the heck was that? 

The election nightmare for this White House, which does appear to have rattled this White House, it appears to not be ending any time soon.  Republicans hope and expect to add another U.S. senator to their majority in the Senate when Mississippi holds its Senate recount ten days from now.  You would think that would be a shoo-in for the Republicans.  They wouldn`t need to worry about it, right? 

But their Republican candidate in that race started off this week by musing publicly about attending public hangings, aka lynchings in Mississippi.  Now, she is on tape musing about how she sure would like to make it harder for liberals to be able to vote in Mississippi, including at some specific schools, if you know what I mean. 

Her response since that tape came out tonight has been to call it a joke.  Obviously, just a joke.  But Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith is running against an African American Democrat named Mike Espy who is running a good campaign in Mississippi. 

This election is a runoff.  It happens in less than two weeks.  The Republican Party should not have to spend a dime to elect a Republican in the state of Mississippi, but you know what?  They already lost an Alabama Senate seat in the Trump era by running a candidate just like this. 

Now, down in Mississippi, they`re having to spend money there too.  And that is a story that is sort of yet to unwind and is definitely worth watching. 

There is just a lot going on.  But there really does seem to be something up right now when it comes to the existential scandal that has faced this administration from the very beginning.  At the start, you recall, it was an FBI investigation, a counterintelligence and criminal investigation started during the 2016 presidential campaign looking at this hostile, foreign military intelligence operation to monkey wrench our election, and the crucial question of whether or not one of the two candidates in that election, Mr. Trump was in on that foreign military intelligence operation, whether he was aware of it, whether he played a part in it. 

The FBI started that investigation during the campaign.  It was not publicly reported before Americans voted in that election, but it came to be known soon thereafter, and when President Trump found out about the FBI running that investigation into what Russia did and the possible involvement of him and his campaign, the president fired the head of the FBI.  He fired James Comey. 

And presidents of course are allowed to fire the FBI director or any other presidential appointee, but they`re not allowed to do it for the corrupt purpose of stopping or diverting an ongoing investigation that the president feels threatened by.  I mean, when President Trump fired Comey, his White House did go through the motions of creating a pretext, right?  Creating a cover story for him for why he lad to fire Comey. 

The president stuck by that for about five minutes, then he quickly abandoned it.  He told visiting Russian officials in the Oval Office that firing James Comey would relieve a great deal of pressure on him over the FBI`s Russia investigation.  The president also, of course, famously did an interview with Lester Holt for NBC news in which Mr. Holt asked President Trump about firing James Comey. 

He didn`t ask him anything about Russia.  Russia was not part of the question.  But the president just volunteered, just blurted out that when he had fired Comey, in fact what had been on his mind were his own objections to the Russia investigation.  He volunteered that the firing was intended to affect the investigation.  He basically volunteered that that firing was obstruction of justice. 

And those circumstances around the firing of FBI Director James Comey and what the president blurted out and admitted about why he did it, that is how what started off as an FBI investigation into the Russia matter ended up becoming an investigation run by the special counsel`s office, looking both at what Russia did and also related crimes, including potential efforts to obstruct the investigation into what Russia did and whether Trump helped.

Well, now we have just had the next iteration of that same pattern.  A few hours after last week`s election, the president fires the attorney general and then tries to pull off this unprecedented maneuver of bypassing Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who had been overseeing the Mueller investigation, instead putting this new guy in charge who is literally a cable news pundit whose job was arguing against the Mueller investigation. 

Matthew Whitaker`s appointment of acting attorney general of the United States has proved to be legally problematic.  It`s also proved to be just an embarrassment for all sorts of reasons related to Matthew Whitaker, and we`ll have more on that at another time.  But there remains this core issue that like with the Comey firing, there is this core issue, this core question, was this guy installed specifically to mess with the ongoing investigation into the president, right? 

Again, the principle here is simple.  The president can certainly replace anyone in his cabinet.  There is nothing wrong with that in the abstract.  But you can`t do that sort of thing for the corrupt purpose of diverting or stymieing or getting some sort of advantage over an ongoing criminal investigation that the president fears might hurt him. 

But now today, like he did with the Comey firing, the president has simply and bluntly volunteered that that`s in fact what he did, that that`s in fact what he was thinking about when he installed this new guy at justice.  Conservative website called "The Daily Caller" just interviewed President Trump and then released a full transcript of their conversation with him.  You remember in the Lester Holt interview, after Trump fired Comey, Lester Holt didn`t ask Trump about the Russia investigation, just asked him about firing Comey. 

Trump volunteered to him hey, you know, I was thinking about Russia when I did that.  Trump just did the exact same thing about putting Matthew Whitaker in to replace Attorney General Jeff Session.  This was the question from "The Daily Caller". 

They said, quote, could you tell us where your thinking is currently on the attorney general position?  I know you`re happy with Matthew Whitaker.  Do you have any names?  Chris Christie? 

The president responds: Matthew Whitaker is a very respected man.  He`s -- and he`s very importantly, he is respected within the Department of Justice, just somebody that is very respected.  I knew him only as he pertained, you know, he was with Jeff Sessions. 

And, you know, look, as far as I`m concerned, this is an investigation that should have never been brought.  It should never have been had.  It is something that should have never been brought.  It is an illegal investigation, and you know, it`s very interesting, because when you talk about not Senate-confirmed, well, Mueller is not Senate confirmed. 

Nobody was asking about Mueller.  Nobody was asking about the Russia investigation.  In fact, you were asked about Chris Christie and whether or not you were thinking down the road about who might ultimately get this position after Matt Whitaker.  But nevertheless, the president volunteered his response that, yes, he put Whitaker in there.  And you know what?  The Mueller investigation, that`s a problem. 

So that was -- that was late last night they released that transcript after we were off the air last night.  Then this morning, the president started making online statements, started tweeting in all capital letters about the Mueller investigation.  It`s the first time he has done that in a few weeks.  He hasn`t done that since September. 

And, in general, try not to care too much about the things the president says online.  It`s very rarely a means of him conveying factual information to the American peoples.  I usually think it`s designed to be provocative and it can therefore be ignored. 

But in this case, what the president posted online this morning, after volunteering to "The Daily Caller" last night that he installed Matthew Whitaker at the Justice Department because of the terrible Mueller investigation that`s illegal and never should have been started, right after that, this morning, it is worth noting that this is what the president post beyond line: 7:14 a.m., quote, the inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess.  They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts.  They are screaming and shouting a people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want.  They are a disgrace to our nation. 

Hold on right now.  The inner workings of the Mueller investigation did you say?  How do you know about that? 

As I mentioned, the president has not tweeted about Mueller for a few months now, but he has never before tweeted about having access to the inner workings of the Mueller investigation.  He has never said anything like that before until today, one week after Robert Mueller`s investigation stopped reporting to Rod Rosenstein at the Justice Department and started instead reporting to this guy, Trump`s new hand-picked pundit who he now admits was installed at the Justice Department because of the president`s objections to Mueller`s investigation. 

So, in the space of 24 hours, the president has admitted that the reason he replaced the attorney general is because of his objections to the Mueller investigation.  Now he is bragging with his new person in place in charge of the Mueller investigation, he has new access to the inner works of that investigation that he never had before. 

Now best case scenario here, it is possible, of course, that the president is just lying.  It`s also possible, though, that the president has just once again openly confessed to obstruction of justice, and using a political appointment to skew, and in this case spy on an investigation that pose as real threat to him. 

Senator Lindsey Graham today met with Matt Whitaker.  He came out of that meeting saying that Whitaker told him he has no intention of recusing from overseeing the special counsel`s office.  There is now reason to seriously question whether in his new role as acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker is already feeding inside information about the investigation to the White House and to the president. 

In federal court right now, some unknown defendant who is being treated with incredible deference by the federal court system appears to have entered into a hard fought end game secret negotiation with Mueller`s team as to whether or not he or she must I guess testify or hand over whatever Mueller is demanding.  For now all of those proceedings are under seal.  For what it`s worth, we now know that the one judge on that court who was appointed by Trump and who worked for the Trump White House and who pledged to recuse from matters related to what he work Monday in the Trump White House which we know included the Russia investigation, he has recused from that case and he is the only judge who has done so. 

We know that the president this week since he returned from his disastrous overseas trip, he has been having long meetings, hours-long daily meetings with his personal lawyers related to the Mueller investigation.  They say they have specifically been meeting on the question of collusion between his campaign and Russia.  And in the middle of all of, this we have the president bragging that he now has access to inside information about what`s going on inside the investigation. 

In other words, this is probably the moment we`ve been waiting for.  I mean, his is what presidential historians like Michael Beschloss have been telling us is probably barreling down the tracks at us, a second Saturday Night Massacre, which of course became the beginning of the end for President Nixon in Watergate.

  When a president tries to control the Justice Department in order to make an investigation that dooms him go away by corruptly influencing the course of the investigation, that`s usually the end. 

Michael Beschloss joins us next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Ii just said we were going to have Michael Beschloss here.  I mean that, but we have a little bit of breaking news first.  We just got this new filing that is news that actually fits exactly what we`ve been talking about, but this is brand-new.  This is a new filing from Robert Mueller`s office, from the special counsel`s office tonight in the Paul Manafort case. 

It was nine weeks ago, I think nine weeks ago tomorrow that the Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort plead guilty and agreed to start cooperating with prosecutors from Mueller`s office.  We had been expecting Mueller`s team and Manafort`s lawyers to file tomorrow a joint status report to the court updating the judge in Manafort`s case on basically how it`s going with Manafort cooperating, when prosecutors might be done with him cooperating, when they`re willing to essentially hand him over to the judge so the judge can move on to sentencing him for his crimes. 

And again, that joint status report was due tomorrow, but they have just filed early tonight.  And here`s the part that makes the ominous music start up in your head and that makes us put the red banner on the bottom of the screen.  In this new report they just filed, Mueller`s prosecutors have just asked the judge to please give them ten days before they tell the judge what`s up with Manafort`s case right now. 

Ten days?  That is very strange.  They say they`re not going to make tomorrow`s deadline.  They would like a ten-day extension.  That is unusual. 

Here is exactly how they say it, quote, at the hearing on September 14th, 2018, the court ordered the parties to submit a joint status report on November 16th, 2018, which would be tomorrow.  The parties have been meeting since the hearing date.  The parties believe a brief extension of the status report date until December 26th, 2018, will allow them to provide the court with a report that will be of great assistance in the court`s management of this matter. 

Actually, it`s greater assistance, not great assistance.  That will be of greater assistance in the court`s management of this matter. 

Paul Manafort has been cooperating with Mueller`s team for the last nine weeks.  What`s going to happen in the next ten days that will give the court a better picture of how helpful Paul Manafort has been?  Something`s going to happen between now and ten days from now that will allow them to be of greater assistance in the court`s management of this matter?  What`s going to happen in the next ten days? 

There is a palpable sense right now with the president firing the attorney general hours after the election, bragging today that he did that because of his own objections to the Mueller investigation, the president bragging today that since he installed his own new guy at the Justice Department replacing his attorney general, he has new inside information on the inner workings of Mueller`s probe. 

With the president meeting for hours with his Russia lawyers day after day this week and cancelling many other major events in order to make time for that, with seal proceedings related to the special counsel`s office unfolding in a D.C. courtroom, with mysterious extensions like this one tonight for cooperators like Paul Manafort and Rick Gates who ran the Trump campaign, there is a palpable sense right now that this is the -- this is the time we have been expecting.  This is the thing for which we have all been reading up on our history. 

NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss is on deck right when we need him.  That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.  He is the author of the excellent new book "Presidents of War."

Mr. Beschloss, thank you for making time to be here tonight.  I know you had to go through hither and yon and lots of weather to be here. 

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  A little snow. 

MADDOW:  Yes, exactly.

The reason I really wanted to talk to you tonight despite all of those hardships is a couple of reasons.  One of the reasons is something I`m not great at, but I know you really are, and that is looking at presidents as people, seeing them as human beings and recognizing the significance that might have on historical reports.  We`re having a lot of reporting right now about the president essentially being in emotional trouble, the president being in an acute, highly emotional state, being very angry, being uncontrollable, people around him being afraid to be near him.

  And I know that`s been reported about other presidents at times of stress in the past.  But how do you contextualize reporting like that? 

BESCHLOSS:  Well, I think you have to see -- we`ve seen that face and we`ve seen the way he has been behaving this week and the amount of time which he has been spending publicly on duty, which is not very much.  So, you have to assume this is a president who is filled with rage it seems, especially when you read these tweets, and also maybe a lot of depression, and perhaps this is a reaction to -- I`m speculating here -- but if Matt Whitaker has gone to find out what Robert Mueller has been doing and what he`s got and what he`s about to do and communicated that back to the president, which seems to be the main reason why Trump would have appointed someone as unqualified as Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general, then Donald Trump may now be tonight confronted with what his life may look like the next couple months, and it may not be a very pleasing sight. 

MADDOW:  So that`s a totally different take on what the president was I think sort of bragging about today with this online outburst this morning.  I say it was an outburst, because of its emotional tone, all capital letters and some intemperate language, but the president was essentially bragging that he has access to the inner workings of the Mueller investigation now. 

BESCHLOSS:  Right. 

MADDOW:  And he said a lot of things about the Mueller investigation. 

BESCHLOSS:  Can you imagine him bragging it out loud?  I mean, it is just like the Lester Holt thing.  I mean, why would he think this is remotely in his interests to say something like that? 

MADDOW:  Well, that`s how I have been seeing it, that the president appears to be volunteering the motivation, the corrupt intent behind this personnel move was obstruction of justice. 

BESCHLOSS:  Right.  It`s like wearing a sign. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  And now, he is bragging about how he is reaping the benefits of it, who he is obstructing the investigation, or at least he is getting inside information to it, which he shouldn`t be getting.  But you`re saying that we might also see a consequence of that if Whitaker is conveying true information to the president about the status of the investigation, what the president may be learning may be scary to him. 

BESCHLOSS:  I think it could be scary to him.  And remember what he wrote in the tweet just this morning about destroying innocent lives.  Those may be lives of people around him.  I`m speculating here again, but maybe even members of his family, and that suggests that he has to be beginning to think about what he`s going to do. 

You know, you and I have talked for months, over a year about the time when the Mueller investigation might be stopped involuntarily.  And we could be nearing that moment. 

MADDOW:  The historical example that we`ve all got top of mind when we think of a president trying to basically throttle the Justice Department in order to stop an investigation that could hurt him.  The investigation -- or the historical event that comes the mind always is the Saturday night massacre. 

BESCHLOSS:  Right. 

MADDOW:  Where Nixon ordered the firing of the special prosecutor, the attorney general, and the deputy attorney general.  In turn each refused and resigned in protest.  When presidents try to pervert the course of justice, when they try to obstruct, whether it`s that example or others, does the Justice Department usually squeal?  Or does the Justice Department sometimes go along with it? 

BESCHLOSS:  Well, there are inspectors general and there are people in the Justice Department who will object to it, but usually you got career people who know that this is not the way that it`s supposed to happen, and they get their back up. 

For instance, Nixon appointed when J. Edgar Hoover died in the spring of 1972, as FBI director, acting, a guy named Patrick Gray, who is basically an old political hack, who had been a supporter of Nixon`s back since the 1950s.  It reminds me a little bit of Whitaker because Nixon wanted someone who`s the head of the FBI who would pull FBI files of journalists who criticized him and tell him what was going on with investigations of his friends. 

And the good thing for history is that a year later when he came up to be confirmed, Patrick Gray was, it was discovered that Gray was so stupid that he had abided by a demand from the Nixon White House to destroy incriminating Watergate documents, which if you want to get confirmed, was not too intelligent, and the nomination was pull, and after that Nixon was forced to take a permanent FBI director who was a professional.  So you have to assume, you have to pray that the system corrects itself. 

MADDOW:  So, even when you can get people in place who will do the kind of stuff that a corrupt president wants in circumstance like this, the system tends to catch them? 

BESCHLOSS:  There are an awful lot of people who will blow the whistle.  Let`s hope if this happens, let`s hope that that happens, we will see that whistle blowing. 

MADDOW:  Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, the author most recently of "Presidents of War" which is really good, and is chockfull of stuff you thought you knew about you but you really don`t and he will prove it to you when you read this book, Michael, thank you very much.  Great to have you. 

BESCHLOSS:  Thank you very much.  Really appreciate it.

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more to get to tonight.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Hey.  So I said we would have an update for you on what`s still going on with ongoing election results.  Since I said that moments ago, even a little more news has broken on that front.  Tonight, Democrats have picked up another seat in Congress.  Just within the past hour, "A.P.", "Associated Press" has called another California congressional race.  "The Associated Press" now says that Democratic challenger Katie Porter has turfed out incumbent Republican Congresswoman Mimi Walters. 

Now I am saying specifically that "The Associated Press" has called this race.  NBC News has not yet called this race.  We will let you know if that changes.  But the "A.P." is now projecting this as the final result. 

In the great state of Maine, you may have also heard today that Democratic candidate Jared Golden has unseated Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin.  The call in Maine, this call in Maine, gave Democrats a gain of 35 seats in House, the most since the aftermath of Watergate.  Again, if that California Katie Porter race ends up to be called in the end, that will bring that number up to 36. 

Beyond the continued pileup of Democratic wins, all eyes tonight remain on Georgia and Florida.  The Georgia`s governor`s race, Stacey Abrams, is trying to get enough votes to force a runoff election against the former secretary of state, Republican Brian Kemp, who has been a very controversial steward of this election in which he has himself been a candidate. 

Last night, a judge in Georgia ruled that Georgia officials have to count absentee ballots if voters forgot to fill in their birth date.  So with that judge ruling, there will be more counting and more waiting ahead in Florida.  Meanwhile, in Georgia -- in Florida, we`re sort of running out of adjectives to describe what`s going on there.  We`ve been seeing headlines all day that made it seem like Broward County would make the 3:00 p.m. deadline today for a statewide machine recount of votes, 3:00 p.m. deadline today. 

It turns out Broward County missed the deadline by two minutes, reportedly because of the person from Broward submitting the data was unfamiliar with the state`s website.  It took an extra couple of minutes.  Palm Beach County missed the deadline because their machines overheating.  Hillsborough County decided not to submit new results at all after the power went and then the recount showed a drop of 846 votes from the first time through.  Alligator ate your ballot, what does that mean?

The state instead is going to use whatever those counties submitted to the state on Saturday alongside recounted totals from all the other counties in the state.  Whatever they end up counting, right now, the governor`s race looks more out of reach for Democrat Andrew Gillum than would the Florida Senate race would for Democrat Bill Nelson. 

Tonight, the Republican in the governor`s race, Ron DeSantis, declared victory over Andrew Gillum.  He called himself the governor-elect.  Andrew Gillum is not conceding tonight.  He continues to say that every vote needs to be counted and there`s more votes to count.

In the Florida Senate race, we are going it looks like to a second recount.  There was a machine recount almost all the counties finished today.  But Rick Scott, after that recount after that machine recount, he appears to lead Democratic Bill Nelson by less than 13,000 votes, and that is definitely close enough for there to be yet another statewide recount, this time not a machine recount.  This time, it`ll be ballots being counted by hand. 

So, election officials will be looking for ballots that the machines might have trouble reading because voters skipped a race or chose more than one candidate in the race or some other problem.  Lawyers for Bill Nelson`s campaign tell us tonight that they are filing a motion, a new motion in state court asking that all the votes in at least one county, Palm Beach County should be recounted by hand.  All the votes, not just anything spit out or marked as trouble.  I mean, that would be over 580,000 ballots in that one county. 

That hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.  I don`t know how long it takes to count 580,000 ballots by hand, but if you`ve been holding your breath for the end of Florida Senate race, you should rethink your strategy. 

We`ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  For a full week now, thousands of Californians have been living in shelters or with family and friends because they`ve had to flee their homes to escape what is now the deadliest fire in California history.  As of tonight, officials in California say the Camp Fire, as it`s called in Butte County, California, has killed at least 63 people.  That death toll continues to rise.  We have continued to see that death toll rise day after day. 

Alongside the death toll rising, it has been particularly worrying to see the number of missing persons climb as well, higher and higher as each day goes by.  As of right now survivors looking for neighbors and loved ones.  They`re now going off a list of 631 missing people. 

That one fire in Butte County has burned through 140,000 acres thus far.  Firefighters have only been able to contain that blaze to about 40 percent this far.  Smoke from the enormous fire has led to air quality problems across big parts of Northern California, even quite far from the site of the flames. 

For example, schools in the good-sized city of Oakland, California, are going to be shutdown tomorrow because of terrible air quality.  I`ve never seen purple air quality alerts in the San Francisco Bay Area before. 

There are two other major fires blazing in southern California as well.  Three people have been killed in the southern part of the state. 

I should tell you that tonight, the president apparently plans to visit the day after tomorrow, on Saturday, to meet with survivors.  That ought to seem like normal news on a night like tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Before we grow -- before we grow.  Before we go and before we grow, can we put up a screwy graphic a minute ago that I just want to explain what that was?  Can we put up that Maine graphic again? 

I was talking about this race was polled by NBC News for the Democrat Jared Golden defeating Bruce Poliquin, the Republican incumbent congressman in Maine second district.  The reason it looks like Golden has less votes but he got is because Maine uses ranked choice voting, which means Maine voters picked their first, second, and third choices when they go to vote. 

And if neither candidate gets 50 percent on the first round of voting, then what they do is go see who other people voted for.  Were there other people who voted for the Green Party candidate or libertarian candidate?  Who`d they pick second?  Those second choice votes then get retabulated for the top two contenders. 

And it was that rank choice voting process after neither of the major party candidates got to 50 percent, which resulted ultimately in the Democrat in that race unseating the Republican incumbent.  Our graphic looks screwy because we all had the first round of voting on the screen.  Sorry. 

That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

                                                                                THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC.  All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.