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White House weighs expelling Erdogan. TRANSCRIPT: 11/19/18, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Richard Blumenthal

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  I will tell you, talking to you for your podcast, I mean, we talk all the time.  We`re friends.  Well see each other in the real world. 

But like sitting in the studio with you, with microphones in front of us and like having that talk for that extended period of time was so rewarding to me. 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN":  I felt the same way. 


HAYES:  It was great.  Do it again. 

MADDOW:  A, I like you.  B, I think your podcast, the podcast format for you is really, really, really good. 

HAYES:  I love doing it. 

MADDOW:  You`re really good at it.  It`s just -- I mean, you`re always good at drawing people out.  But being in that sort of intense environment with you, seeing you do it and being there in the moment, it`s just -- it`s just great.  And I`m really grateful that we had that time.  So thank you. 

HAYES:  Thank you.  I feel the same way.  I`m real excited for folks to hear it. 

MADDOW:  OK, thanks.  Let`s move on. 


MADDOW:  There, you saw a little tender moment.  We did it on TV by accident. 

All right.  Thanks to you for joining us this hour.  Thanksgiving week, it sort of looks like a vacation week if you squint at it, but because the holiday doesn`t come until Thursday by definition, the first few days of Thanksgiving week historically speaking, these are often a time when a whole bunch of news kind of gets crammed in all at once, whether it`s because the news gods also want Thursday off or it`s because people are just trying to clear their inboxes before they go away or have some time for the holiday. 

The beginning of Thanksgiving week is often a little busy, and a lot of stuff tends to happen, all kind a crunch.  So it is good that you are here tonight.  There`s lots to get to. 

In California tonight, there are grave worries about the death toll attributed to the state`s absolutely unprecedented wildfires.  The death toll officially stands at 80 for the California wildfires tonight.  Most of those deaths occurring in Butte County in the northern part of the state where the camp fire has been burning.  And while that death toll number, that 80 number is horrific, what is becoming more and more unnerving as the days go by is the persistently gigantic number of people who are considered missing in conjunction with the fires. 

"The L.A. Times" tonight has a good article basically going through the list of missing persons and identifying some of what appear to be duplicates and finding some people who are on the list who are nevertheless definitely alive and accounted for.  So there is great hope that the thousand-person-long missing persons list will ultimately be winnowed way down.  And let us hope that the death toll will not rise much higher than it is now, but it is already really high at 80, and this is a complex and still evolving situation. 

The rain that is due to fall in some affected areas of the state this week, that not only increases the risk of mudslides and landslides and flooding in areas that have burned, that also complicates the physical task of trying to find human remains in areas where searchers have been painstakingly going house to house and car to car and property to property, trying to find any physical signs of the remains of Californians who were killed in these fires. 

So, we are continuing to watch that story unfold.  We expect that story will continue to be horrific over the course of this weekend.  It will be changing circumstances with changing weather there this week.  Just a natural disaster of national proportions. 

The president`s visit to California this weekend was marked by a number of embarrassing missteps on his part, including repeatedly misstating the name of the town of Paradise, California, as Pleasure, California.  The president also continuing to insist that he had some sort of magical information about preventing forest fires by raking forests, cleaning out what he called their floors. 

And it`s easy to laugh at or scoff at the president for being so fundamentally incompetent and embarrassing and classless on a presidential trip like this one that he took this weekend, but in the context of whole communities burned to the ground and dozens of Americans killed in absolutely horrifying circumstances, a number that may rise to hundreds if and when their remains can finally be found and sifted, there is just something toxic about having the leader of the country there in the middle of that catastrophe and him being so profoundly unable to get even the basic, simple human stuff right. 

The notes that you give for something on a trip like this fit on an index card, right?  You know, like, you know, people died.  Don`t blame them.  Express concern.  Figure out the name of the place you`re talking about. 

Do not make stuff up about any of this, specifically about how you would have avoided the disaster if people were only as smart as -- I mean, most presidents wouldn`t even need instructions like that because most human beings could intuit those basic rules of how to approach this kind of a trip. 

So I just -- sometimes when the president, you know, screws up and spells stuff wrong and gets names wrong and misstates facts, sometimes there is an element of funny to it.  In this context, it`s just, as I said, sort of toxic.  But that happened. 

Last week, speaking of toxic, we reported that a high-ranking Trump appointee in the Environmental Protection Agency, the person who Trump had installed to run the EPA for the whole Southeastern United States, last week we reported that he has been indicted on criminal charges in his home state of Alabama.  A little bit of a weird update on that story today.  This is a high-ranking Trump EPA official who was indicted a week and a half ago. 

We learned about it from the Alabama press last week.  We`re still trying to get ahold of the indictment, and we can`t yet get it.  That itself is a story.  But despite the fact that he has apparently been under criminal indictment for quite some time now, it appears that this Trump EPA official just resigned his office at the EPA today, which means he was continuing to run the EPA for the entire Southeastern United States while under criminal indictment for more than the last week. 

And then as soon as we learned of that oddly timed resignation today, we also learned about another dramatic development that seems sort of adjacent to that story.  The Republican attorney general of Alabama is a man named Steve Marshall.  He was initially appointed to the job to replace Luther Strange who got appointed to Jeff Sessions` old Senate seat. 

Steve Marshall initially appointed, he then stood for election to the position in this month`s elections.  He was elected AG this month.  And now today, surprise, this newly elected attorney general, Republican attorney general in Alabama, he up and fired the top public corruption prosecutor in that state. 

Now in Alabama, the top public corruption prosecutor in the state is a busy guy, right?  Think about what`s been going on in Alabama in recent years.  This is the prosecutor who brought a multi-count felony indictment against the serving Republican speaker of the house in Alabama, which resulted in the speaker of the House being sentenced to four years in prison. 

It`s the same prosecutor who soon thereafter negotiated the resignation of the Republican governor of Alabama as part of a plea deal in his sex and ethics scandal.  This is the same public corruption prosecutor who was reportedly overseeing a grand jury in Alabama that was working on the exact same criminal scandal that just ensnared this top official from Trump`s EPA and got him criminally indicted, which today resulted in his resignation. 

And now on the same day that that indicted Trump EPA official has finally resigned his job, the newly elected Republican attorney general in the state where he was charged fires the public corruption prosecutor?  The guy who had that particular bull by the horns?  And has seen all of these other top officials in the state run out of office and in some cases put in jail? 

I mean, I know that this is an Alabama official.  This is an Alabama story, but this is also a national story if only because it`s a Trump EPA official who has been charged here.  But even if it weren`t a Trump official here, the surprise firing of a public corruption prosecutor is always going to be a big story. 

This particular public corruption prosecutor, Matt Hart, who was fired today, he has been particularly high profile and effective public corruption prosecutor in a routinely corrupt state.  He is routinely described in the Alabama press as the most feared man in all of Alabama politics.  When a guy like that gets fired in the middle of a still unspooling big public corruption scandal, where arrests and indictments are all happening still right now -- I mean, that -- that is national news.  It`s national news already, and I have a feeling that that one is going to grow. 

Again, one of the things we are still chasing down with that story is we`re trying to get our hands on the indictment of this high-ranking federal official.  So far, nobody can produce that document for us.  Indictments aren`t supposed to be secret.  It`s not like this one is under seal.  It`s just nobody seems to have it to show anyone. 

Speaking of scandalous perversions of law enforcement, the president`s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after the midterm elections, his installation of Matt Whitaker at the top of the Justice Department, that continues to be a sort of slow rolling constitutional crisis at the top of American law enforcement.  Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and a couple his colleagues in the Senate today brought a federal lawsuit against Whitaker suing him, claiming that his appointment is illegal and he constitutionally cannot serve as acting attorney general. 

We`re going to be speaking with Senator Blumenthal live here in studio in just a moment about that. 

Part of the controversy about the installation of Matt Whitaker at the Justice Department is, of course, among all of the other functions in the Justice Department he is overseeing, he is specifically now is supervising Robert Mueller in the special counsel`s office in the Russian investigation. 

Well, tonight in a new filing in one of the cases that relates to the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller`s prosecutors have made an interesting argument to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  This is a new filing that has just been submitted tonight.  They argue in this filing that Matt Whitaker getting appointed to be acting attorney general of the Justice Department, they`re arguing in this filing tonight that that does not materially affect the arguments that are happening in this appeals court over whether or not Robert Mueller`s appointment is constitutional. 

Now, I`m mentioning this filing tonight because -- not because I think it`s the most important thing in the world, but I do think it`s important that I think it`s being misunderstood.  I think people are mischaracterizing it or reading more into it than what is actually in the filing.  And so, I just want to make sure everybody is on the same page about this. 

This Mueller case, this case in the D.C. Appeals Court, this is not, you know, an indictment of an individual, you know, like the Mike Flynn case or the Paul Manafort case or the Maria Butina case.  This is a case that is designed to go to the Supreme Court of the United States and very well may.  This is a case from somebody who you may have never heard of named Andrew Miller who received subpoenas from Robert Mueller.  Mueller`s subpoenas told him he was supposed to testify or hand over information to a grand jury. 

This guy Andrew Miller refused to respond to the subpoenas, refused to recognize their validity, and basically, his case got set up as a legal challenge so the federal courts would have to rule on whether or not Mueller`s appointment is constitutional, whether special counsels really can be empowered by the Justice Department at all to do the kind of investigation that Mueller has been doing. 

So this is an appeals court case that`s designed to challenge basically the existence of the special counsel full stop.  Since these filings were first put on the public docket tonight, there has been some discussion online, there have been some headlines suggesting that what Mueller and his prosecutors are saying in these filings tonight is that Matthew Whitaker showing up at the justice department doesn`t affect the work of the special counsel at all, that the investigation is proceeding as it did before, and Matthew Whitaker being at the Justice Department is having no effect on what Robert Mueller and his team are doing. 

I`ve seen it characterized that way this evening.  That`s actually not what this filing says.  The only argument that Mueller and his prosecutors are making to this appeals court tonight is that Matt Whitaker getting appointed at the justice department doesn`t have any bearing on this specific case.  On this case that`s before the Appeals Court in D.C. 

And again, what that case is about is whether Robert Mueller was constitutionally appointed.  Robert Mueller was appointed well before Matthew Whitaker ever showed up at the Justice Department.  So, all this filing says tonight is that the Matthew Whitaker thing is not relevant to these arguments. 

It`s not relevant to this case.  If there is problems with Whitaker`s appointment, that should be dealt with in some other venue.  There isn`t any sort of broader claim here from Mueller`s prosecutors about whether or not Whitaker is impeding the investigation or anything else. 

Matt Whitaker may absolutely be impeding the Mueller investigation at this point.  Nobody is quite sure that we would have any window into that if that was happening.  That`s it.  We may be getting a little bit more of a window into what is going on with the special counsel`s office tomorrow. 

Tomorrow is the deadline for presentencing reports to be handed in to the court in the case of Mike Flynn, President Trump`s first national security adviser.  He pled guilty to a felony.  He has been cooperating with the special counsel`s office.  He is awaiting sentencing. 

Tomorrow, prosecutors have to tell the court how that`s been going with Mike Flynn cooperating and what kind of sentence the judge should consider for him in light of his guilty plea and how much he`s been able to help prosecutors out. 

Now, we don`t know if that filing will be sealed or unsealed when it is turned into the court tomorrow, but if it is publicly available, if it`s not under seal, that should make for very interesting reading, that should be a big story.  It should give us a significant sort of piece of the puzzle in terms of what`s been happening with Mike Flynn all this time.  It will tell us, for one part, whether or not we expect him to actually spend time in jail.  It should tell us something about how helpful he has been to prosecutors. 

But given what`s happening right now with the Justice Department and the president angling at the Mueller investigation, that sentencing filing tomorrow from Mueller`s prosecutors may also be our first window into what`s been going on in the special counsel`s office, what kind of decisions they`ve been able to make or not make since they started reporting to this new guy, to this Trump loyalist, Matt Whitaker, whose appointment is so controversial. 

So that`s going to be tomorrow.  Again, if it`s under seal, we won`t know what`s it in until the court unseals it.  But if it`s filed publicly, that should be fascinating. 

Another thing you should watch for in tomorrow`s news is the last debate for the last U.S. Senate race that is still to be decided in this country.  Bill Nelson conceded the Florida Senate race this weekend to Rick Scott.  So that is a Republican pickup in Florida. 

But next week, there is one more.  The Mississippi U.S. Senate runoff will happen between Democrat Mike Espy and Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith.  Now, it is hard to imagine a statewide race being competitive in the state of Mississippi.  But "The Washington Post" reports today that internal Republican polls show that this race between Mike Espy and Cindy Hyde-Smith is tightening. 

Democrat Mike Espy is very well-known in the state of Mississippi.  He is a former congressman from Mississippi.  He was the secretary of agriculture in Bill Clinton`s cabinet in Clinton`s second term.  Mississippi born and raised. 

And it does not hurt Mike Espy`s chances that the person he is run against for this election just isn`t that great at this.  Cindy Hyde-Smith has made a number of controversial and sort of inexplicable remarks since she has been heading towards this runoff with Mike Espy.  But the thing to know heading into tomorrow night`s debate, is not just that she has said stuff that`s gotten her in trouble, it`s that after she says stuff that gets her in trouble, she doesn`t seem capable of talking her way out of it when it comes time to answer questions, to answer for the controversial things she has said, and that`s the kind of discussion you tend to have to have at a one-on-one Senate debate. 

So, heading into that debate tomorrow, which should be amazing, you should know that this, for example, is how Cindy Hyde-Smith recently handled Mississippi reporters` questions after she was overheard making lighthearted remarks about how much she would like to attend a public hanging, aka, a lynching.  She got questions about that from Mississippi reporters. 

Here`s how she answered their questions. 


SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI:  I put out a statement yesterday and we stand by that statement. 

REPORTER:  Could you expand on it, then, why you said it, what you meant by it, and why people in the state should not see it as offensive? 

HYDE-SMITH:  We put out the statement yesterday and it`s available, and we stand by that statement. 

REPORTER:  Senator, are you familiar with Mississippi`s history of lynches? 

HYDE-SMITH:  I put out a statement yesterday, and that`s all I`m going to say about it. 

REPORTER:  You mentioned that there shouldn`t be -- it shouldn`t be viewed with a negative connotation.  Could you at least explain how it could be positive? 

HYDE-SMITH:  I put out a statement yesterday, and we stand by the statement, and that`s all I`m going say about it. 

REPORTER:  Is that phrasing in your everyday lingo, your everyday vocabulary? 

HYDE-SMITH:  I put out a statement yesterday. 


MADDOW:  Cindy Hyde-Smith, Republican of Mississippi.  Tomorrow, she will face off in the final U.S. Senate debate before the last Senate election in this country this year against Democrat Mike Espy.  Should be fascinating to watch. 

That election in Mississippi, that runoff is a week from tomorrow.  So Tuesday after Thanksgiving. 

And now we know actually that the week after that there is going to be yet another big important statewide race with national implications in Georgia.  In Georgia, of course, Democrat Stacey Abrams did not win the governorship against Republican Brian Kemp.  I realize that is an awkward way to phrase it. 

But you can`t say that Stacey Abrams conceded the race to Brian Kemp because she didn`t.  Abrams has acknowledged that she did not win and that Kemp will ascend to the governorship.  But she has been steadfast and firm in her criticism that the reason Kemp won is because of the systematic racially specific voter suppression efforts that he ran as Georgia`s elected Republican secretary of state, as the man responsible for running elections and maintaining the voter roles in Georgia. 

Well, Brian Kemp is going to move on to be governor of Georgia, but there is still going to be another statewide election in Georgia to pick his successor.  Neither the Republican nor the Democrat running to succeed Brian Kemp as secretary of state got more than 50 percent of the vote on election night that was in part because whose that guy on the right?  There was a third party candidate in the race who did pretty well, got a couple of points that kept both the Democrat and the Republican in the secretary of state contest from hitting the 50 percent mark. 

That third party candidate, libertarian, will not be in the runoff.  That`s what a runoff is, right?  You take the top two candidates. 

With the libertarian out of the race, he has now thrown his support and his endorsement to the Democrat in the race, to John Barrett.  So again, that runoff will be in a couple of weeks.  It will be on December 4th, a statewide election in Georgia to pick a Democrat or Republican to be the next secretary of state seceding Brian Kemp. 

This is for the person in charge of maintaining the voter roles in the great state of Georgia.  This statewide runoff coming after an unbelievably hotly contested governor`s race in which the right to vote was as much a part of the contest as anything else about the two candidates. 

And the right to vote, the ability to vote, the question whether or not the playing field is tilted to one candidate or the other, to one party or the other, that has become basically the theme song to what happened in this year`s election.  If not the theme song, at least the background music. 

There is a weekly newspaper in Wisconsin called "Isthmus".  It`s one of the worse I can`t say no matter how many times I say it.  "Isthmus".  I can`t say sixth or procurement or isthmus. 

There you have it.  That`s my kryptonite.  I can`t say those things. 

The website Think Progress today picked up this graphic that "Isthmus" made to show the election results this year in Wisconsin.  Honestly, it`s clear as you can possibly get in terms of showing what happened in this election and showing what the challenges right now for Democratic Party nationwide. 

In Wisconsin this year, Democrats actually did great.  Democrats sort of ran the table in Wisconsin.  And this actually shows the Democratic votes and the Republican votes for all the statewide races that were on the ballot in Wisconsin this year. 

So, secretary of state in Wisconsin, the Democrat got more votes.  The Democrat won.  State treasurer, the Democrat got more votes.  The Democrat won.  Sate attorney general, the Democrat won. 

The U.S. senator, the Tammy Baldwin seat, Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin got way more votes.  She won in a landslide.  And, of course, the governor`s race, Republican Governor Scott Walker lost his seat, replaced in the governor`s mansion in Wisconsin by Tony Evers, after the Evers, the Democratic candidate got more votes. 

Democrats did great.  They won every statewide race in Wisconsin.  And now look at this -- this is the story of our time.  While Democrats were busy sweeping every statewide race in Wisconsin, they also absolutely swept the state assembly. 

So, there`s people voting for their state legislator.  Way more people went to the polls in Wisconsin -- on election day in Wisconsin and voted for a Democrat for their state legislator than voted for a Republican.  Democrats got a majority of those votes.  Clearly, 53 percent of the votes cast for state legislators or cast for Republicans.  Democrats down to 45.

Democrats beat them by an eight-point gap in terms of the legislature.  And now look at the results in terms of seats won in the legislature.  Even though Democrats got a big majority of the votes, even though the Republicans did not get half the votes that were cast for the legislature, Republicans got 64 percent of the seats. 

Why is that?  Because they tilted the playing field.  They drew the district so it`s almost like no matter how many more votes Democrats win, they can never get the majority.  They can never get control.  They can never get power. 

That`s how it happened in Wisconsin this year, this month.  Saw the same thing happen in state after state. 

Here`s how it worked in Pennsylvania.  Again, the Democrats just shellacked Republicans in terms of the number of people who turned out and voted for a Democrat to represent them in the state legislature.  Democrats won those votes by eight points.  That`s a huge margin.  And the Pennsylvania legislature will nevertheless come back with Republicans holding the majority of the seats. 

Same thing happened in Michigan.  The majority of voters turned out and voted for who they want them to state legislature.  The majority of voters in Michigan voted for a Democrat to be their state legislature.  And nevertheless, the majority of seats in the legislature will go to the Republicans. 

Same dynamic at work in North Carolina.  More people voted for a Democrat to represent them in the legislature than voted for a Republican.  The Democratic vote margin is 2.5 points over the Republicans.  But the Republicans will come back with a majority, with 54 percent of the seats -- even though the Democrats beat them in the vote. 

It`s because they`ve tilted the playing field.  This is what Republicans have engineered all over the country with their control of state legislatures to rig the electoral map so Democrats can`t ever really get power no matter how many votes they get, no matter how many more votes they get.  You see it in all of these state legislatures. 

And that translates to a national tilt as well, right, where the Democrats have to win by gigantic margins in order to pull in even a modest majority in the U.S. House.  Nate Silver of today points out the Democrats actually had huge turnout in congressional races this year across the country.  They had about an eight-point popular vote win over the Republicans in congressional races. 

In terms of raw numbers, quote, about 60 million people turned out to vote for Democrats for the house this year, that is a crazy number, according to Nate Silver.  What it means is almost as many people turned out to vote for a Democratic member of Congress in this midterm election as turned out to vote for Donald Trump in the presidential election two years ago. 

There is no precedent for that in U.S. history.  People turning out to vote in presidential election year numbers when there isn`t a president on the ballot.  It`s just never happened before. 

Democrats had huge turnout.  They beat Republicans in terms of the popular vote for Congress by like eight points.  And yet Democrats will take control of the house in January with a relatively modest majority, because the playing field is tilted against them. 

In order for Democrats to fix that, they`re going to have to win governorships and state legislatures all across the country, and/or they`re going to have to continue to try to convince states either through the courts or through ballot measures to adopt nonpartisan maps in the future that aren`t tilted either way. 

In the meantime, though, there are short-term fights to be fought.  There is a U.S. Senate race that happens a week from tomorrow.  There is a secretary of state race in the really important purple state of Georgia that happens two weeks from tomorrow.  Can we put up those North Carolina graphs again?  Do we have that just?  Right.

All right.  Right after Thanksgiving weekend, on Monday of next week, a week from today, you want to know what one of these fights is?  A week from today, Republicans in the U.S. Senate have scheduled a vote on a lifetime federal judgeship for the North Carolina Republican lawyer who created the map in North Carolina that did this to the partisan balance in that state. 

So, Republican lawyer, long-time party apparatchik in North Carolina named Thomas Farr.  Courts denounced his work as a blunt, quote, racial gerrymander and struck it down.  When he advised the state legislature on a package of voter laws that was described as being maybe the worst voter suppression package ever passed by a modern state legislature, that was denounced by a federal appeals court as, quote, targeting African Americans with almost surgical precision. 

You look at the tilt of the playing field, right, you see it nationwide.  You see the effects nationwide.  And you look at it, you know, see how it plays out state by state.  The state by state perversions in the democratic process, this tilting of the playing field, and you think my god, you know, the structure is messed up.  What can be done? 

But each of these map, each of these states, they have an author.  There are personalities and individuals state by state, law by law, court ruling by court ruling fights behind each one of these skews.  And one week from today, the North Carolina author of this bias, this skew, this perversion of the Democratic process in that state will be before the U.S. Senate with every senator in the United States Senate having a chance to vote yes or no to make him a federal judge for the rest of his life. 

Even the long-term big picture battles in American politics break down into small scale short-term winnable fights, even right around Thanksgiving.  You`d be surprised.


MADDOW:  Ever since the elections, we have seen the president keep even by his standards, I`ll call it an unusually light schedule.  Today, for example, according to the president`s official schedule, the president had two things to do.  Number one, he oversaw the arrival of the White House Christmas tree, a 19 1/2 foot all the Frasier fir from North Carolina.  Very nice. 

And number two, the only other item on the president`s calendar today was lunch with Vice President Mike Pence, which I`m sure was excellent.  But the president`s whole official say was saying hello to a tree and having lunch.  That was it. 

While the president was busy with that today, though, he did at least get this little ping in his inbox.  Three Democratic senator, all of whom are on the Judiciary Committee, today they sued the president and his Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker in federal court.  These three senators are arguing that it is unconstitutional for the president to unilaterally install Matt Whitaker as the nation`s top law enforcement officer without ever having him run through the Senate for confirmation. 

Quote: The U.S. Senate has not consented to Mr. Whitaker serving in any office in federal government, let alone the highest office at the Justice Department.  If allowed to stand, Mr. Whitaker`s appointment would create a road map for the evasion of the constitutionally prescribed Senate advice and consent rule. 

Joining us here live is Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.  Along with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Mazie Hirono, he filed this lawsuit against Matthew Whitaker and the president today. 

Senator, thank you for being here. 


MADDOW:  As senators hour, do you have standing to bring this lawsuit? 

BLUMENTHAL:  The president`s end run around the Constitution deprives us of our right to vote, each of us as senators was elected by our people in our state to vote on advising and consenting.  And there is a larger issue also than just our being injured because we`re deprive to have had right to do our job.  It`s also a check and balance which the founders envisioned to apply in exactly this kind of case, where the president appoints someone who is unfit, who lacks qualifications to do the job.

And Alexander Hamilton said it on behalf of the founders.  They wanted to prevent the president from appointing people who were of such insignificance and pliancy as to render them obsequious instruments of his pleasure. 


BLUMENTHAL:  And that`s Matt Whitakers, an instrument of the president`s pleasure, known as his eyes and ears in the Department of Justice, even when he worked for Jeff Sessions, someone who has called the special counsel investigation a hoax and provided roadmap for essentially how to stranglehold.  And so, there is an immense practical significance and harm to us in our inability to advise and consent, to hold hearings, and say whether we approve of this nominee or not. 

MADDOW:  If you were successful in this suit, on what sort of time frame would you expect to it unfold?  And what`s the remedy?  Presumably, you`d want Mr. Whitaker removed as acting attorney general.  But would you essentially be expecting his actions as attorney general to be retroactively annulled at that point? 

BLUMENTHAL:  Well, that`s an excellent practical question.  Our hope is that there will be a ruling from the court, an order that removes him as acting attorney general or orders the president to withdraw his appointment and that there will be as few practical harms to the Department of Justice and the rule of law as possible, which is why we hope courts will rule as quickly as possible.  We have no control over how speedily they will rule. 

MADDOW:  The Justice Department is a robust, large, well-ordered institution into which outsiders have very little vision.  And in part of that, part that of is because ongoing investigations and prosecutions before they`re ready to be made public have to be maintained with some secrecy.  The internal structure and bureaucracy within the Justice Department, we also just don`t see into very well.  So we don`t know very much about what Matt Whitaker has done already since he has been there. 

There is a lot of concerns specifically about what he might have done already when it comes to the Mueller investigation.  Now, everybody who I have asked about this says yep, there is no way we can know, we won`t find out about it until long after. 

Do you have any either informed suspicions or hard information about what Mr. Whitaker is doing with regard to Mueller? 

BLUMENTHAL:  I have some informed suspicions, and I underscore suspicions, because Matt Whitaker has provided a kind of road map for what he thinks should be done to the special counsel investigation.  Namely, kind of death by a thousand cuts, cuts in funding, cuts in authority, cuts in declining subpoenas or indictments. 

All of those actions may have been preceding.  You`re absolutely right.  We have no real view into what`s happening in this investigation.  And that is precisely why we want the courts to rule quickly, because Congress is going to be out of town and then out of Session.  And there will be no check and balance unless Rod Rosenstein continues to be in charge of this investigation. 

And here`s the other point, that Matt Whitaker is really unqualified for this job by virtue of what he said in the past. 

MADDOW:  You said he would never pass the advice and consent test, meaning if he had come before the Senate, he never would have been confirmed? 

BLUMENTHAL:  And I believe that he would have been rejected as a nominee, but we`ve never had any hearings.  No senator has ever had the opportunity to ask him what he thinks should happen with the special counsel investigation.  I will be introducing legislation that will require a report with all of the findings and evidence of the special counsel. 

In other words, full transparency and disclosure of what`s happening behind those walls if the special counsel is ever fired or forced to resign. 

MADDOW:  Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, thank you for explaining that to us tonight, sir.  It`s good to have you. 

BLUMENTHAL:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  "The Washington Post" was first to report on Friday night that the CIA has come to the conclusion that the leader of Saudi Arabia, the country`s crown prince, personally ordered the killing of Virginia resident and "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

This weekend, President Trump continued to bend over backwards to not condemn or criticize the Saudi leader.  He urged everybody to wait for a, quote, very full report from the CIA that he said would come out on Tuesday, as in tomorrow.  If there is a report from the CIA tomorrow that spells out its conclusion that the Saudi leader personally ordered the murder of a U.S. journalist, what exactly is President Trump going to do with that? 

I mean, whether it`s because he values Saudi Arabia as an ally so much or because his son-in-law is such good pals with the Saudi leader or because of some other leverage the Saudis have over our president that we do not yet understand, I mean, whatever it is, it does seem fair to expect that if the CIA report comes out tomorrow, and it does say that the leader of Saudi Arabia, the crown prince ordered that killing, it seems reasonable to expect that the president will continue to ignore the findings of his own intelligence community and continue to shrug this off. 

Why is he so invested in shrugging this off?  We may be able to answer that.

We`ll be right back.


MADDOW:  So, NBC News reported late last week that the White House has been seeking ways to try to get the nation of Turkey to stop kicking up such a fuss over the murder of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi by agents of the Saudi government.  He was killed in a Saudi consulate in Turkey. 

One way that the U.S. government has been considering trying to calm down the Turkish government about this murder is by giving Turkey`s authoritarian president the thing he wants most in the world from the United States.  He wants the United States to hand over to him an exiled Turkish cleric who is a legal permanent resident of the United States.  He`s lived in Pennsylvania for 20 years. 

Turkey`s government blames this guy for an attempted coup in 2016 as well as everything else that has ever gone wrong in Turkey ever.  It`s a pretty good bet that nothing good would happen to him if he were sent back to Turkey and the United States government has rejected previous requests by Turkey to hand him over. 

Now, though, the Trump administration has reportedly been asking Justice Department and other federal agencies about ways that we can maybe hand this guy over.  Give him to Turkey in order to get Turkey to stop complaining about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. 

Jamal Khashoggi lived in Virginia.  He was a U.S. resident.  He wrote for "The Washington Post".  He was journalist here in the United States.  Why on earth would the United States be most concerned in this circumstance with shutting down criticism of the country that murdered him? 

Joining us now is Wendy Sherman.  She is a former undersecretary of state for political affairs of one of America`s top ranking diplomats.  She is also the author of "Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power, and Persistence."

Ambassador Sherman, it`s great to have you here.  Thank you for being here.


MADDOW:  I understand as much as the next newspaper reader understands about this.  Can you give us insight into why the Trump administration might be doing what they`re doing here? 

SHERMAN:  I think the Trump administration had this theory and it went something like this: if we can create an alliance with Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, we can get together with Israel and make sure that we get a Middle East peace agreed, Jared Kushner`s famous plan that we`re all waiting to see, and we can all work together to push Iran back out of the region. 

After all, I did what the Saudis wanted me to do, what Israel wanted me to do.  I got rid of that bad Obama-Iran nuclear deal that maybe stopped nuclear weapons, but it was no Obama deal.  We should get rid of that.  Make the Gulf, make Israel happy and then they will cooperate together. 

And anything that throws that off of the path that the president had in mind is a problem for him because after all, we are all still waiting for this vaunted Middle East peace plan which is supposed to solve all problems. 

Meanwhile, nothing has occurred.  We have not in any way pushed Iran back out of the region.  We have a horrific war in Yemen that has been led by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. 

We have an Israeli government that is under pressure.  The prime minister just had to push back a possible no-confidence vote in his own country because of what`s happening in Gaza.  We have a meltdown with Qatar between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  We have political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. 

We have what my former boss, friend and partner have said, Madeleine Albright, what we call in diplomacy a mess. 

MADDOW:  In terms of this vaunted plan, if this plan is, A, the big idea of the Trump administration on foreign policy, and B, in the meantime, it`s something that will excuse even the most horrific behavior by our supposed allies in this vaunted plan, is it worth it?  Is that plan remotely realistic?  Is there any reason that the United States should be doing the kind of stuff that they`re doing right now in order to prop that up because of some larger game in mind? 

SHERMAN:  Well, you know, every administration has to walk and chew gum.  This administration seems to walk and gain money, and we don`t know what all the personal financial pieces are to this puzzle.  We also have a situation much like Putin`s interference with our election where the president has said -- well, Putin told me he didn`t do it and the crown prince has told me he didn`t do it, so I guess we didn`t do it. 

Look, we all value a relationship with Saudi Arabia.  Every administration has valued that relationship.  They are an important partner in the region, but one does have to walk and chew gum.  And we aren`t using any of the leverage we have. 

Saudi Arabia needs the United States.  It`s not just us needing them.  We could get them to stop the war in Yemen.  We could put a halt on the sale of offensive weapons until we get some real judgments here about what occurred.  We could indeed call for a forum in the Gulf Coordinating Council to solve the crisis with Qatar. 

There are a number of things.  We could call on Saudi Arabia to stop having the political prisoners that it does on a constant basis.  We all got behind the crown prince early on because he did put behind some reforms that are important, his vision 2030 plan for the country to diversity and to come into the modern world.  We all got excited when women were able to drive.

But there`s been an awful lot of really bad behavior on the other side of the ledger and we need -- 

MADDOW:  Like locking up the female activists who led the campaign for driving. 

SHERMAN:   Absolutely.  And so, we need to -- there needs to be some accountability for that. 

And, you know, in the middle of the Iran negotiation where Russia was a partner with us, they invaded Ukraine.  We continued the negotiation on Iran because we all wanted to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon and we sanctioned the hell out of Russia.  You can do many things simultaneously.  In fact, you must to protect the security of the United States and most importantly to protect the values of our country.

What are we if not we what we believe in and what we stand for? 

MADDOW:  Wendy Sherman, former under secretary of state for political affairs, I take your point and I think you`re an optimist maybe more than I am on these matters.  I am worried they can`t even do one thing, let alone two, at the same time.  But it`ll be interesting to see the president`s reaction if we get that CIA report made public. 

SHERMAN:  Indeed.

MADDOW:  Wendy Sherman, thank you for being here.  Much appreciated.

SHERMAN:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Are you driving anywhere this week?  Are you traveling, are you taking a flight?  I have something you can listen to while you are on your way, something that has been making me absolutely crazy.  For the past few months, but in a good way it has been making me crazy I think for quite obvious reasons. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Vice President Agnew appeared suddenly in the Office of House Speaker this afternoon with a letter to the speaker.  The letter asked he be investigated by the House.  Here`s what the letter says: I respectfully request that the House of Representatives undertake a full inquiry under the charges which have been made against me.  After a most careful study, my counsel has advised me that that constitution bars a criminal proceeding of any kind, federal or state, county or town, against the president or vice president while he holds office.  This is, of course, the key point. 


MADDOW:  Was the key point.  In the fall of 1973, the sitting vice president of the United States Spiro Agnew was under active criminal investigation for a lengthy list of bribery and extortion allegations. 

He never got to test his theory that a sitting president could not be indicted.  He resigned about two weeks after he sent that letter begging to be impeached by the Congress instead.  But the story of why Agnew resigned and the reason he was able to escape criminal charges, it is a fascinating story that`s been sitting on the dusty shelves of history for a long time, but that story is episode five of my new podcast which is called "Bag Man".  The episode just dropped tonight. 

You can as of right now download it wherever you get your podcasts.  You can go to  There are only seven episodes of "Bag Man" altogether.  This is number five. 

We`ll be right back. 


MADDOW:  I mentioned earlier that the president had an unusually light schedule today.  The president`s entire official schedule today had two items on it. 

Number one, receiving a Christmas tree.  He didn`t have to like go pick it out or saw it down or something.  He just had to walk out and look at it when it arrived.  That was one of two items on his schedule today, say hello to the tree. 

The second item on his schedule today was lunch, lunch with Mike Pence.  So that`s it.  Get the tree or look at the tree and have lunch with Mike. 

Now, I want to be fair and put this in context, I can also now tell you we have the president`s schedule for tomorrow.  His official schedule for tomorrow has one item on it.  He will be meeting a turkey, presentation of the national thanksgiving Turkey.  At 1:05 p.m., he will pardon either carrots or peas tomorrow, but that`s it.  That`s all the president`s doing tomorrow. 

So don`t worry about his stress levels.  He`s fine. 

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

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD."  Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight. 

Good evening, Ali.

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