RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Have an excellent weekend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Friday.
The newly appointed head of the U.S. Department of Justice, Matt Whitaker, is not someone who you might have expected to ascend to the top law enforcement job in the United States of America, especially at this point in his life. He does not have a particularly distinguished resume. And I don`t say that as an insult. I am not say -- I do not mean it in a personal capacity.
He just -- what I mean by that is he doesn`t have the kind of experience, the kind of resume one usually associates with the job he currently holds. Matt Whitaker is from Iowa. In the early 2000s, he joined a small Iowa law firm. He also went into business in his home state. He went to a whole bunch of businesses. He owned a day care center and a concrete supply business, also a trailer manufacturer called Road Husky.
If you want a tough, dependable trail they`re will keep pulling long after the others have died, you need a Road Husky. Now, if you haven`t heard of Road Husky, it`s OK.
A banker who helped Matt Whitaker arrange the financing for that trailer business told "The Washington Post" this week, quote, it did fine. It was not a huge business. He never did anything that was a huge business or even a medium-sized business, but he did have a knack for making connections, political connections in Iowa.
Matt Whitaker, for example, volunteered on the George W. Bush 2000 presidential campaign in Iowa, and he must have made quite an impression, because not that many years later, President George W. Bush named Matt Whitaker to be a U.S. attorney in Iowa. Now, he was not an obvious choice for that job. And this becomes a theme in Mr. Whitaker`s biography, in case you`re wondering.
But when it came to George W. Bush naming him the top federal prosecutor in Iowa, you just -- you wouldn`t have imagined that this guy would be fist in line on the list of qualified people for that job. Quote: In a disclosure submitted to the federal government for the post, Whitaker was asked to list his most consequential legal work. One case involved personal injury litigation in which he represented a man whose leg was run over by a car. A second was contract dispute between a dry-cleaner and the grocery store where the dry-cleaner operated. In another, he represented a marble and tile company sued by a couple over their home remodeling project.
When "The Post" showed this material, showed that this was his resume, this was the experience he offered when he became U.S. attorney, they showed this material to a professor who studies the federal court system. That professor told "The Post" that he, quote, knows of no U.S. attorneys with resumes like Matt Whitaker`s.
Quote, this was an extraordinarily weak and unusual background for a U.S. attorney. But he had connections and he got the job. And then Matt Whitaker tried for some other political posts. He ran for state treasurer, and he lost. He ran for U.S. Senate. He lost that too. He got just over 7 percent of the vote.
So, he`s been -- he`s been kind of a small-time Iowa businessman, a main street lawyer, but a guy with some political connections and tons of political ambitions. And there is nothing wrong with that.
But now, all of the sudden, with that resume, he is the acting attorney general of the United States. And it`s got to feel good, right? I mean, this is a heck of a promotion. It`s like you just got promoted from car wash to champion NASCAR driver, all in one fell swoop. You just got promoted from sweeping up in the lobby to living in the penthouse and collecting everybody else`s rent. I mean, this is a promotion like being shot out of a cannon.
And so, for his first trip since he was named acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker went triumphantly back to Iowa, baby. How do you like me now? I`m back. You knew me when, right? Guess what I am now.
For his first trip as the top law enforcement official in the United States of America, he goes back to Iowa and he gives this speech this week. And he talks about how he played football in Iowa and how he is raising his family in Iowa and how Iowa is his home and Iowa has shaped his values, but then he has to get on to the business of why he is purportedly there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPO)
MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: We`re going to continue to provide our prosecutors and our state and local partners with the resources that they need, and we`re going to keep putting fraudsters in jail. I want to thank each one of you for your contributions to this effort. This room is full of the front lines of folks that are addressing this important priority issue for the Department of Justice, and I cannot thank each and every one of you enough for your efforts and your attendance here today.
Each one of us plays a role, and certainly not just those of us in government. All of us can be on the lookout for fraud schemes and report suspected criminal activity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: All of us can be on the lookout for fraud schemes. This is an important issue, priority issue for this Justice Department under this new acting attorney general. We`re going to keep putting fraudsters in jail.
And, you know, it`s funny. It`s funny that Matt Whitaker should tell the people in that room to be on the lookout for fraud schemes. It`s interesting that he should choose fraud to be his sort of inaugural topic on his hometown victory tour after being named to the country`s top law enforcement job. It`s funny, because one of Matt Whitaker`s most recent jobs shortly before he joined the United States department of justice was having to do with this.
This is, as you see there in all caps, the masculine toilet. Now, honestly, I don`t even know if I`m going to be able to describe this on TV without getting in trouble. If it`s any consolation, I will tell you that reading this press release about the masculine toilet, it`s going to be just as embarrassing for me as it is for you. Let`s follow along, shall we?
Quote: The average mail genitalia is between blah, blah, blah and blah, blah, blah. However, this invention is designed for those of us who measure longer than that.
Quote, I estimate that a 12-inch distance is adequate enough for most well endowed men, though I would not be surprised if there are cases who need a greater distance. Nevertheless, for the time being, this is a good starting point. An extra long XL version can always be created if needed. According to a comprehensive university study brokered by World Patent Marketing, there is a strong likelihood of this product being successful in the marketplace.
I`m sorry I couldn`t read every word of that. You get the gist.
But that company, World Patent Marketing was not just in the business of these self-esteem toilets. World Patent Marketing also marketed time travel with this video apparently showing the futuristic world you would soon visit with World Patent Marketing`s fourth marketing time travel technology, or, I`m sorry, a theoretical time travel commodity tied to the price of bitcoin. Hmm.
There was also the line of Bigfoot related merchandise marketed on the claim that DNA evidence found in 2013 proves the existence of Bigfoot. World Patent Marketing said it was developing a board game, a mobile app, knapsacks, toy, a clothing line for kids and is planning a celebrity event called "you have been squatched."
Also, one curiously dissatisfied customer claimed World Patent Marketing had offered him a patent and a marketing plan for his brilliant, couldn`t fail invention which was a chicken and waffle sandwich maker, or actually, it`s just a chicken and waffle sandwich. He wanted to patent the sandwich.
And forgive me, I`m just going to take you back do that press release for the masculine toilet one more time, because at the bottom of that remarkable document, which I think has slightly scarred me is this. Quote, World Patent Marketing in the news. Quote: The appointment of Matthew G. Whitaker, former Iowa U.S. attorney and Republican candidate for United States Senate to the company`s advisory board.
That`s in the bottom of the toilet press release, the big guy toilet.
Here was Matt Whitaker speaking about that appointment. Quote: World Patent Marketing has become a trusted partner to many inventors that believe in the American dream. I have always admired World Patent Marketing and its innovative products and dynamic leadership team. It`s an honor to join the World Patent Marketing board.
World Patent Marketing was fraud, a big serious fraud. A lot of very funny products that are hard to talk about on TV, but a big serious criminal scheme. How big? The Federal Trade Commission shut the company down, fined it nearly $26 million.
That fine was ordered just six months ago, and as laid out by the FTC, there were really two elements to the fraud. One is that World Patent Marketing didn`t do the work that they promised their customers they would do. The company took money from their pat sis, right, from these aspiring inventors telling them they would patent their creations and get them made and marketed and sold.
But instead of doing any of that, they sort of gave them a bunch of junk and pocketed their money, like the guy, for example, who said he was a 60- year-old disabled veteran, and he paid the company to patent and promote his ideas for innovative fishing equipment. He told "The Guardian" newspaper, quote, received nothing for the $14,085 I paid to the company other than a bad quality drawing and a logo that my grandson could have made.
World Patent Marketing appears to have specifically marketed themselves to veterans as one of their targeted groups. So that was the first part of the fraud. They would take people`s money and do nothing for them.
The second part of the fraud is that when people complained, which they inevitably did, the company would threaten them with retribution and legal action if they went forward, went public with their complaints. We have since learned from victims of the fraud that the FBI, not just the FTC, but the FBI is investigating this as a criminal matter too, particularly the threat part of it. And the threat part of it appears to have been carried out personally in part by Matt Whitaker.
We had this initial report about him from the FTC suit about him threatening, quote, serious civil and criminal consequences against disgruntled customers who dared complain. In an e-mail where he conspicuously noted he was a U.S. attorney. But it turns out that that wasn`t a one-off. Subsequent reporting from "The Wall Street Journal" and "The Washington Post" found that Matt Whitaker also angrily threatened the owner of a consumer website where dissatisfied customers of his company were posting their horror stories about their involvement with this fraudulent scheme, including the guy who claimed that World Patent Marketing offered him a patent on his chicken and waffle sandwich.
So, Matt Whitaker appears to have been the sort of proverbial hit man for this fraud scheme. He was the one who would call up and threaten severe penalties against anybody who wanted to go public with any sort of complaint that they had been defrauded by this fraud scheme. This is a fraud that is currently under criminal investigation by the FBI. And, of course, the FBI is part of the DOJ, which means it`s now overseen by Matt Whitaker.
No public comments thus from DOJ or Matt Whitaker as to whether he might be recused from that matter which directly involves him.
This week, the incoming Democratic chairmen of four different congressional committees, the members of Congress who are expected to run those committees when the Democrats take over the House in January, those four chairmen announced that they`re opening an investigation into Whitaker`s involvement with that criminal fraud scheme. They started this week by sending seven separate letters requesting information and documents including to Whitaker, to the former founder and CEO of World Patent Marketing and to the FTC.
In their letter to Whitaker they write, quote, because the Senate was not given an opportunity to properly vet your background, serious questions are now arising about your fitness to serve in this position. And they note that they are requesting documents from Whitaker in his personal capacity, not as his official capacity at DOJ. They are investigating him personally.
And that turns out to be just chapter one of the big fat book of problems that Matt Whitaker has now got since he got this big out-of-the-blue promotion well beyond the terms of his resume. There are already multiple lawsuits, including one brought by the state of Maryland questioning whether or not Whitaker can actually legally hold this job. First, there was the Maryland lawsuit, then the next lawsuit to be filed we think, the second lawsuit against Whitaker is from a Texas businessman who was indicted by the federal government for what "Politico" describes as an alleged, quote, long-standing conspiracy to secretly blend chicken feathers and bones into what pet food companies were told was higher grade chicken or turkey meal products.
And the material facts of the fraudulent pet food case aren`t terribly important here unless, of course, you are an avid student of federal codes against the sale of unadulterated ingredients. But because of a technicality in the way that case is being pursued, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions personally is listed as a party to that fraudulent pet food prosecution.
Of course, now that Jeff Sessions has been fired as attorney general and Matt Whitaker has been installed in that role, that means that whatever you think of the pet food case, the guy who is the defendant in that case, the accused pet food adulterer, he can now try to throw a wrench into the government`s case against him by challenging the legitimacy of Matt Whitaker`s appointment. I mean, if you were a defense attorney trying every possible way to defend your client, wouldn`t you try that?
Like the attorney general is listed by name in your client`s prosecution, in the court documents about your client being prosecuted. That attorney general has been replaced in a system -- by no system which appears to be an appointment of dubious legality. Wouldn`t you challenge that while you were defending your client?
One law professor tells politico.com, quote: there will be thousands of identical motions filed by defense lawyers throughout the country. Quote, eventually one judge will declare Matt Whitaker is not the acting attorney general that decision will throw the entire executive branch into disarray. The Supreme Court will have to resolve that as soon as possible.
Well, sure enough this evening brought a new one. This time it`s the case of a Nevada man who`s trying to keep his right to own a gun, even though he has been convicted of certain crimes. His case is currently before the Supreme Court, and as expected, that guy`s lawyer, that guy`s defense lawyer is asking the court to rule that Matt Whitaker isn`t the real acting attorney general.
Just as trying to defend his client, represent his client in this case, hey, charging documents in this case, they list Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That would make sense. That would be legal. This guy Matt Whitaker, never vetted by the Senate, just installed by the president, you sure that`s legal? You sure he`s the acting attorney general?
So there is the fraud stuff like, oh, that looks bad, and it`s an FBI investigation, and the Democrats are like we`re going -- we`re going at you on that hammer and tongs. Are you ready? Plus, there is the lawsuit about whether or not the attorney general and everything he does as attorney general will be annulled and erased and all the chaos that will bring. We`ve already seen three of those lawsuits. We may be about to see thousands of those lawsuits.
And now, the top Democrat on intelligence, top Democrat on the intelligence committee in the Senate has weighed in with a serious objection, specifically with Matt Whitaker overseeing the Mueller investigation. There has been a lot of attention to the fact that Mr. Whitaker has made all these public comments prejudging the outcome of the Russia investigation, criticizing it and making it seem very clear that President Trump put him in there to dismantle or stymie the Mueller investigation somehow.
But Senator Mark Warner is now saying actually, the issue is Whitaker`s close ties to somebody who is right in the middle of the Mueller investigation, somebody who has been called to testify before the Mueller grand jury. Sam Clovis is national co-chair of the Trump campaign. He brought on to the campaign both George Papadopoulos, who`s pled to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts, and Carter Page, who is the subject of a secret intelligence warrant over his Russian contacts and his contacts with Russian spies.
Clovis has been interviewed by the special counsel, the special counsel`s grand jury, and by congressional committees in the Russia investigation. And he and Matt Whitaker are, quote, dear friends. Whitaker chaired one of Clovis` political campaigns in Iowa. Clovis says he discussed all kinds of work he did for the Trump campaign with Matt Whitaker.
He says during the Trump campaign, Matt Whitaker was his sounding board, to the extent he is an important part of the Mueller investigation because of his role in the Trump campaign, how can Matt Whitaker oversee the Mueller investigation?
Well, now the ranking Democrat on Senate Intelligence is sounding the alarm about that. So, this is not a theoretical thing, right? Matt Whitaker is in there now as the country`s top law enforcement official. This is a live issue, right?
I mean, last night, Robert Mueller`s prosecutors announced they`re going to make -- that they were not going make today`s deadline in the case of Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. The deadline to tell the judge about the extent of Manafort`s cooperation. Last night, Mueller`s prosecutors asked the judge for a mysterious ten-day extension, telling the judge that 10 days from now, all will be made clear to the court as to why they can`t move ahead with this now. But in ten days, the judge will understand. Prosecutors said the extension would, quote, allow them to provide the court with a report that will be of greater assistance in the court`s management of this matter if the court can just wait ten days.
What`s going to happen over the next ten days?
That mysterious filing came just a day after lawyers for Trump`s deputy campaign chair, Rick Gates, prosecutors of Mueller`s office told the judge in gates` case that Gates is no longer cooperating with the investigation, he is now cooperating with multiple investigations that are ongoing. Prosecutors and Gates` lawyer say they expect him to continue his cooperation through early next year at least.
That was followed today by prosecutors working on the Maria Butina case. She is charged with infiltrating U.S. conservative groups on behalf of Russian intelligence. Lawyers are now on both sides asking the judge for an extra two weeks to work on her case. They want that because the two sides are, quote, in negotiations regarding a potential resolution of this matter.
So that`s happening too over a two-week horizon. Something`s going on right now, right? The horizons have suddenly gotten very short. This stuff seems to be happening now.
Today, the president announced that he has completed answers to written questions demanded by the special counsel`s office. The president was asked about reports that his lawyers were working on these questions for Mueller`s team.
The president told reporters today, I`m quoting here: My lawyers aren`t working on that. I`m working on that. I write the answers. My lawyers don`t write the answers, I write answers.
I was asked a series of questions. I`m answered them very easily, very easily. The questions were very routinely answered by me, by me. I didn`t take very long to do them. They were my answers. I don`t need lawyers to do that. They`re not very difficult questions.
Bragging that the questions are easy. This is not a test, right? You`re not supposed to show where on the elephant the tail goes? These are not those sorts of questions.
But we really have no visibility right now as to what`s happening inside the Justice Department and whether Matt Whitaker has effectively hog-tied Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s investigation in this week and a half since he has now been on the case. But in American law and politics, the thing that presidents don`t tend to get away with is bluntly trying to subvert the course of justice in order to protect themselves. I mean, it`s not that they don`t try. Ask me history trivia questions about them trying. I have a pretty good grasp on that at this point.
But it`s hard to get away with in the end in this country, because we do have a robust tradition of nonpartisan independent law enforcement. And that tradition does come under pressure all the time, but it doesn`t break. We tend to find out when presidents do that, and they tend to get in trouble for it. They at least tend to get caught.
So there are a few ways in which this sort of untenable situation with Matthew Whitaker is going to end at the Justice Department. I mean, one of them is the long, slow painful way, which is that they`re going to leave him in there as long they can, and he will manage whatever wrecking ball routine he can in there when it comes to the Russia investigation. But, you know, thereafter, very soon thereafter, the Democrats will take control of Congress, in just a few weeks.
And then they will unspool and unravel all of that, and they will hold people to account for whatever happened in the interim. So that`s the long, slow painful way this could happen.
The less long way, right, is that the White House could recognize that the long, slow painful way would actually be a worse end to this, and maybe they should try to speed this up themselves. Maybe they should respond to the pressure that he was a bad pick, that he is going to go wrong for all sorts of reasons, and they should get him out of there.
The president has tape and interview with Fox News`s Chris Wallace that is slated to air this weekend, the day after tomorrow. This, for example, is an ad that is slated to run during that broadcast that gives you some kind of idea of the kind of pressure that even Republicans might be susceptible to on the issue of Whittaker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AD NARRATOR: This is Matthew Whitaker. He is a political ally of President Trump and now oversees the Department of Justice and Mueller investigation. What does he think about the Mueller investigation?
WHITAKER: The appointment of Bob Mueller I don`t think was necessary or appropriate.
What I see is a president that is starting to figure out if I want to, I can terminate you. Legally, there is certainly a way for that to happen.
AD NARRATOR: We need an attorney general who doesn`t play politics. Call your senator and tell them Whitaker must recuse himself from the Mueller investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The group that made that ad is Republicans for the rule of law. They`re running that ad only in D.C. this weekend, which means they have a very particular audience in mind for that.
And there is evidence that Republicans in Washington are feeling the pressure on this somewhat. "Politico" today reports that Senate Republicans are really, really hoping the White House will nominate somebody to replace Matt Whitaker ASAP, somebody that is sort of more acceptable for role, or at least just not a fraudster currently being investigated by the FBI.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said this week that Matt Whitaker is likely a, quote, very interim acting attorney general. You`re seeing Republicans now, particularly in the Senate saying this is maybe not a sustainable thing. This guy maybe shouldn`t be there all that long.
So you`re seeing that pressure build. I mean they could keep him in there as long as you want, let the Democrats clean this up once they`re in control of Congress that will be very painful. Republicans could take steps to push him out sooner than that.
But the other way this could end is that honestly, it could just end from sheer embarrassment, because for all of the lofty concerns about the independence of law enforcement and the critical investigation into another country controlling our politics and taking over the elevation of an American president and all this other super serious stuff, for all of those very serious concerns, for all of the sort of intense gravity of this constitutional crisis, that the president has caused by putting this guy in as acting attorney general, the guy he put in there is the masculine toilet guy.
I mean, America and the nation`s reporters have only known about him for a few days, and look at all the stuff that has already come up. The White House said they had no idea he was a key part of a criminal are fraud scheme when they put him in there. Did you know what the fraud scheme was about? Did you know the toilet part?
I mean, the time travel part? Any of it? Chicken and waffle sandwich?
I mean, this crisis may soon become a constitutional crisis. It may string out for a long time, but it may also die quickly from sheer embarrassment, especially if there is more yet to learn along the lanes of what we have already scratched the surface with this guy`s incredible, incredible, incredible Iowa journey.
MADDOW: Tonight, the Democrat in Georgia`s governor race made her first on-camera remarks since election night. On election night, Stacey Abrams announced she would not rest and she would certainly not concede until every single vote in her race against the Republican former Secretary of State Brian Kemp was counted. Stacey Abrams has not made up enough ground since then to force a runoff in the Georgia governor`s race, but what Stacey Abrams gave tonight was not a concession speech, at least not as she understood it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STACEY ABRAMS (D), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election, but to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people`s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling.
Make no mistake: the former secretary of state was deliberate and intentional in his actions. I know that eight years of systemic disenfranchisement, disinvestment and incompetence had its desired affect on the electoral process in Georgia. This is not a speech of concession because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true, or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that, but my assessment is the law currently allows no further viable remedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The law currently allows no further viable remedy. This race for Georgia governor has been marked from the outset, from months ago by a bare-knuckled, no illusions fight over whose allowed to vote, over who`s allowed to register and who`s allowed to cast their ballot and who`s allowed to have their ballot counted.
Stacey Abrams came in to this election as the former Democratic leader in the state legislature and is long time activist for voting rights in Georgia.
Brian Kemp was Georgia`s secretary of state, the state`s top election official who for years aggressively purged the voting roles, purged the voter roles of hundreds of thousands of voters. He suspended tens of thousands voter registrations over minor discrepancies in the record. When Democrats exposed vulnerabilities in the Georgia election system, Kemp accused Democrats of trying to hack into the system.
After all that, Abrams and Kemp are separated by barely two points, barely outside the margin for a runoff. After all that`s happened, Abrams acknowledged tonight that Brian Kemp will be governor of Georgia. But even as she said she would pray for his success, she also named what she considers to be the elements of his malpractice in democracy, and she announced the formation of a new organization, a PAC called Fair Fight Georgia that she said tonight will now sue the state in federal court for the systematic disenfranchisement of its citizens.
And so, yes, now Brian Kemp is on the threshold of becoming governor of Georgia. He will find Stacey Abrams and her continued fight on behalf of voting on the other side of the door.
We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABRMAS: Pundits and hyper partisans will hear my words as a rejection of the normal order. You see, I`m supposed to say nice things and accept my fate. They will complain that I should not use this moment to recap what was done wrong or to demand a remedy. You see, as a leader, I should be stoic in my outrage and silent in my rebuke. But stoicism is a luxury and silence is a weapon for those who will quiet the voices of the people. And I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We have news tonight about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Jamal Khashoggi was a "Washington Post" journalist, a U.S. resident of Virginia. He was killed last month inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey, in Istanbul, Turkey.
This case has been really uncomfortable for the Trump administration, which has cultivated exceedingly close ties with the ruler of Saudi Arabia, the kingdom`s young crown prince. Well, tonight "The Washington Post" is reporting that the CIA has now concluded that the Saudi crown prince, quote, ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A U.S. official familiar with the CIA`s conclusions is telling "The Post", quote, the accepted position is that there is no way this happened without the Saudi crown prince being aware or involved.
With the CIA reportedly coming to the conclusion that the murder was not some interview gone wrong or some rendition gone wrong or some accident, with the CIA saying it was an assassination not carried out by rogue elements in the Saudi government as the Saudis have tried to say, but rather ordered from the top of the Saudi government, ordered by the country`s leader, with that assessment now, not from "The Washington Post," but according to "The Washington Post" from the CIA, that puts the news about what the Trump administration has just been negotiating around this issue with other countries in very, very sharp and somewhat scary relief, and we`ve got that story for you next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Mike Flynn was forced out as President Trump`s first national security adviser three and a half weeks into the start of the new administration. He didn`t even make it a month.
After he got forced out in scandal, you might remember that Mike Flynn retroactively registered with the federal government for having been a foreign agent. He had been paid, it turns out, about a half million by a foreign government, by the government of Turkey while he was part of the Trump campaign. When he finally months later retroactively registered as having been a foreign agent during the campaign, that made some other things make sense. We had known for example that on Election Day, Mike Flynn had published a very strange over the top op-ed in "The Hill" newspaper.
It argued against a Turkish cleric who lives in the United States. He`s a legal U.S. resident. He has a green card. Flynn`s op-ed, again, published on election day, compared this Turkish guy to Osama bin Laden and said that the United States should definitely hand him over to Turkey.
Now, the authoritarian government in Turkey blames this guy in the U.S. for pretty much all of their problems. He is their universal boogieman. They blame him for an attempted coup back in 2016. They blame him for everything.
So, it`s a little weird that somebody from the Trump campaign was arguing, yes, hand him over. Give him to the Turks, right? But that was Mike Flynn. It was a little weird.
Then it got weirder. There are reports in "The Wall Street journal" that Mike Flynn had had meetings with officials from the Turkish government in late 2016 at which they discussed basically kidnapping that Turkish guy, kidnapping him and flying him on a private jet to a Turkish prison island. For this scheme Mike Flynn and his son would reportedly be paid as much as $15 million. That was a little side project he was working on while he was working on the Trump campaign before he became national security adviser.
Now, Flynn`s lawyer said those allegations are false. Then NBC News further reported that in the weeks following Trump`s inauguration, after Flynn took office as national security adviser, a request was made to the FBI to, hey, let`s look into sending that cleric back to Turkey, that exiled cleric.
He`s got a green card to live in the United States. He`s a legal permanent resident of this country. He has lived in Pennsylvania for 20 years. He lives in the Poconos.
The U.S. generally doesn`t hand over political exiles who are legal residents of this country who are not known to have committed any crimes in this country. We don`t usually hand over endangered exiles to authoritarian regimes who are demanding their return because they blame them for the sun rising.
But this week, NBC News reports that the Trump administration once again is going after this guy, trying to send this guy over to turkey. Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Turkey`s government to ease pressure on the Saudi government. The White House is looking for ways to placate Turkey over the murder of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests.
NBC continues, quote: Career officials at the agencies pushed back on the White House requests. As one senior U.S. official described it, quote, at first there were eye rolls. But once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious.
Joining us now is somebody who knows how things are supposed to work inside the administration, or inside any administration on an issue like this. He knows what normal looks like in a circumstance like this.
David Laufman was a long-time civil servant and prosecutor at the Department of Justice. In February, he resigned as the head of the Justice Department`s counterintelligence section, counterintelligence and export control section.
Mr. Laufman, thank you very much for being with us tonight. It`s always good to have you here.
DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER HEAD, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT`S COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AND EXPORT CONTROL SECTION: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, one of the things I raised here was Mike Flynn registering retroactively as a foreign agent after the time he left the Trump administration. But the other issue here is the question of this U.S. green card holder, this man who is a legal U.S. resident. The government of Turkey has been demanding that he be handed over by the U.S. to turkey so they can go after him for lots of different things.
How are issues like that usually handled as a matter of U.S. law enforcement?
LAUFMAN: Well, a formal request for extradition by a foreign government would be put into a process that`s well established within the Justice Department career officials within the office of international affairs and also within the department would evaluate the validity and legitimacy of the request, determine whether it in fact reflects a lawful charge under Turkish law, and then an assessment would be made of whether that same offense charged in Turkey is also an offense under U.S. law, because there has to be something called dual criminality in order for the United States to be in a position to extradite someone here to Turkey.
That wouldn`t be the end of the process, though. If the individual could lodge something called a political offense claim, claiming that the request from Turkey is really politically motivated, then there are defenses that could be asserted to preclude extradition.
MADDOW: In terms of this particular cleric, it`s been widely reported that there have been multiple reports from the Turkish government, multiple forms of pressure from the Turkish government that they really want to get their hands on him. They want him to be extradited. And whether that has taken the form of formal extradition requests, or whether that`s taken the form of political pressure and lobbying, I think depends on the account.
But is this a specific person who the U.S. government has considered in the past in terms of these Turkish requests and Turkish pressure, and that the U.S. in the past has decided no, he shouldn`t be handed over?
LAUFMAN: Well, I think the reporting you described indicate there`s already has occurred a careful vetting by Department of Justice officials, career officials who do this for a living in an assessment made there wasn`t sufficient grounds for extradition. What appear news with if this new reporting is true is that the White House is attempting to strong arm career officials at the department and elsewhere at other agencies into manufacturing a grounds to remove Mr. Gulen to Turkey or elsewhere.
MADDOW: That is absolutely what the reporting says. If in fact this reporting is accurate. I just have to ask your assessment as somebody who has been there and has dealt with these sort of things, how big of -- how big a deal is this? I mean, how unusual is this? And how loudly would you expect people in the agencies, including the Justice Department, to squawk over this kind of pressure from the White House to reverse the decisions, reverse the views of career officials who work on these things as a professor matter?
LAUFMAN: I think it would be unusual if the facts as reported are true. As I said, there has already been a very careful vetting of the validity of the Turkish government`s request, and this is maybe not even a second bite of the apple, but a third or fourth bite of the apple. And so, it appears they are trying to create a pretext under some sort of facts to eject Mr. Gulen out of the United States in order to placate the Erdogan regime, to soothe the current hostility toward the Saudi government in order to appease a regime that our own intelligence community has alleged has committed one of the grossest human rights atrocities in human memory.
MADDOW: David Laufman, former chief of the Justice Department`s counterintelligence and export control section, it`s always an honor to have you here, sir. Thanks very much for your time tonight.
LAUFMAN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: The framing that Mr. Laufman just put on there, I think shouldn`t be skipped over. I mean, what the NBC is reporting is that if you combine this are with reporting from "The Washington Post," that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered the murder of this U.S. journalist, the crown prince orders that, U.S. journalist gets murdered, Turkey raises the alarm about it and says, you know, we`ve got evidence that that happened. It happened on our soil. It happened in our country. Well think Saudi Arabia did it.
Now, the U.S. is offering, what can we give you, Turkey, in order to make you stop making so much noise about what Saudi Arabia did here? How can we play indicate you and calm you down and quiet you down in your upset over what Saudi Arabia did here? Jamal Khashoggi was a U.S. resident, worked for the freaking "Washington Post." He was a U.S. journalist.
We ought to be the ones who somebody is trying to placate here. We shouldn`t be -- right? If the Saudis did this, and if the CIA knows that the Saudis did this, we`re trying to keep other people quiet from complaining about Saudis doing this? And in doing so, we`re maybe going to hand over somebody we`re pretty darn sure they`re going to torture and kill once he gets there? What dystopian movie is this?
I`ll be right back.
MADDOW: I mentioned at the top of the show that what we`re seeing right now with the president installing this loyalist Matt Whitaker at the top of the Justice Department, there may be reason to sort of put that into historical context. There may be sort of good reason to believe from U.S. history that American presidents, White Houses generally, they don`t get along for long with efforts to pervert the course of justice.
Presidents have tried it. Presidents do try it from time to time. They try to stop the investigations that might hurt them. They try to sway the course of law enforcement to punish their enemies or to protect themselves.
They try it, we`ve got instances of that in U.S. history. But what happens is they get caught or it backfires. We`ve seen that in history again and again.
I`ve done this podcast that we`re sort of in the middle now. It`s a seven episode podcast. Episode four is outright now.
And a big part of what that`s about is efforts in the early `70s by the Nixon-Agnew White House to grab ahold of ongoing law enforcement investigations that threaten that White House and to try to pervert the course of justice. And this tale of how they tried to do it, who they enlisted to help them in that effort and why they didn`t get away with it, why it didn`t work, why they weren`t able to succeed is very relevant right now. And there`s a surprising cast of characters in this one, including some people who did some bad stuff who are still around.
So, episode four of "Bag Man" is right now. If you have not listened to it, you can get it at MSNBC.com/bagman.
But there`s something else I have been working on outside of this show besides the podcast. In 1941, before the United States was in World War II, before Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt quietly authorized a secret mission. There was no public pronouncement or anything. It wasn`t a declared U.S. policy.
But FDR directed in mid-1941 that experienced U.S. military pilots should be secretly recruited and helped to unofficially get themselves into China. China and Japan were at war. Japan was an absolutely fearsome military power at the time. China was not.
And in mid-1941, the U.S. was not yet at war against Japan, but at the end of that year, of course, we were about to be. And in 1941, FDR authorized this quiet, unofficial, off the books U.S. air support campaign for China in its war against Japan. And those American volunteer group fighters, those pilots would soon be crucially important to China in their own war, but they would also be usually important in what would soon be America`s war against Japan and against the Axis Powers.
Those quietly recruited, quietly authorized, nobody supposed to know American volunteer group fighters, they soon became very famous. They`ve been sort of authorized in secret, but they very soon became internationally known. They became internationally known as the Flying Tigers.
In that theater of operations, in that point of the world conflict, Flying Tigers ended up being militarily important. They also quickly became legend. Their leader, a Texas stunt pilot named Claire Chennault, he ended up on the cover of "Life" magazine and on the cover of "Time" magazine.
The Flying Tigers were national heroes. Chennault was a national hero. And in 1947, Claire Chennault from the Flying Tigers, he met and married a young woman in China. She was very smart, very ambitious, she spoke excellent English. Her married name was Anna Chennault.
And she ultimately became a really big deal in her own right. Claire Chennault, her husband, the famous pilot, he died in the late 1950s. His widow, Anna, she became a very big deal in American anti-communism. She was an eloquent and hard line spokeswoman for Chinese nationalists and their fight against Chinese communism. She became a businesswoman. She became a journalist.
She not only had lots of important international political contacts, she was rumored to have perhaps intelligence contacts as well. One thing she became very well-known for was her incredible social pull in D.C., especially in Republican politics and national security circles, she threw legendarily great parties and a lot of them.
Her apartment was the penthouse at the Watergate. Yes, that Watergate. She had the penthouse in Watergate. And Anna Chennault has passed now. She died last year.
But a story you should know about her, is that she ended up playing a key super scandalous role in U.S. history, one that hasn`t been fully understood until now. Anna Chennault turned out to be the linchpin and a plan to extend the war in Vietnam, to keep it going specifically in order to elect a Republican president.
In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson, remember he bowed out, he didn`t run again. But `68, Johnson didn`t just announce he wouldn`t run for re- election, he announced that he wouldn`t run for re-election and he would end the Vietnam War. He would start peace talks to finally end the war.
The Republican candidate for president in `68 was Richard Nixon. Nixon was horrified that the Democrats might end the war, that LBJ might end the war right before his vice president stood against Nixon in the 68th election. Nixon was happily churning along in that campaign, hanging the Vietnam War around the necks of the Democrats. And now, the Democrats were going to end the war right before the next election?
And so, after some secret meetings, including a very shady one in a tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City, he put in place with Anna Chennault a plan to make sure a war would keep going. They put together a plan and they carried it out to win the election by collaborating, by colluding if you will, with a foreign country to undermine the United States and thereby tip the election in the Republican`s favor.
It is kind of an amazing story, and parts of it that have never been seen or heard before, we just got. There`s a file -- literally a file that`s called the X file. There`s a president on tape talking about what to do with evidence he has in his possession that his successor at president has committed treason. Treason is the word he uses.
It`s a pretty incredible story, and we`re about to do a special on it this weekend on Sunday night. It`s a TRMS special report. It`s called "Betrayal". It airs this Sunday 9:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC. I think you should watch it. I think it`s pretty good.
That does it for us tonight.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Joy Reid, sitting in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening, Joy.
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