CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is ALL IN for this evening, a show I should also mention, fueled tacos.
The great Rachel Maddow, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Literally the least I could do.
HAYES: Thank you.
MADDOW: It was -- you guys deserved it. Seeing you handle that filing last night coming in in the middle of your hour, and everybody being like, Chris, how come you don`t understand it instantly right now for anybody`s had a chance to read it.
HAYES: Reading it.
MADDOW: You were really good. Tacos well-deserved.
HAYES: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. I`ll send you guys to you guys tacos at home if you ever have to do what Chris Hayes had to do last night live on the air with no commercials when that Flynn filing came out and he had to make sense of it instantly. It was such a blessing to me that I had that little bit of extra time while Chris had to deal with it live.
Anyway, that`s how we pay each other here at 30 Rock. We pay in trays of tacos.
All right. So there`s lots of gets you tonight. This was an unexpectedly new -- unexpectedly busy news day, and I realized that I often say that it was a very, very busy news day today. The reason that was unexpected today is because today was a different kind of day than we ever have in this country and we knew in advance it was going to be like that.
Today was a solemn day in the nation`s capitol, right? All federal office is closed. Federal courthouse is closed. Postal service was shut down today. Financial markets were all shut down today.
Today was a national day of mourning and we do not have very many of those as a country. Former president, former vice president, former CIA director, World War II decorated pilot George Herbert Walker Bush had his state funeral today in Washington. The former president was eulogized by among others his eldest son and namesake who, of course, succeeded him as president.
After lying in state in the capitol rotunda yesterday and overnight and after today`s state funeral, this evening, the former president`s body has been flown back to Texas. He now lies in repose at St. Martin`s Episcopal Church in Houston. And once again tonight, it will be an overnight vigil for him. The public viewing at St. Martin`s Episcopal Church will go through the overnight hours tonight it will end tomorrow at 6:00 a.m. local time.
Today`s funeral for the former president in Washington was an official state funeral but tomorrow will be his private funeral in Texas. That said, private does not mean small. Apparently, there`s something like 1,200 invited guests for the private funeral tomorrow who will be there to pay their respects in Houston. That funeral in Houston will take place at the same church where the former president lies in repose tonight, St. Martin`s Episcopal.
And then after tomorrow`s private funeral at that church at 10:00 a.m. local time, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, that`s the ceremony that we expect to take about one hour. Afterwards, the former president`s body will be transported again this time by train to College Station, Texas, because tomorrow afternoon he will be buried there on the grounds of his presidential library at the campus of Texas A&M.
So, there`s a private Bush family plot there well he where he will be buried alongside his wife Barbara and alongside their daughter Robin who died as an infant. So, the nation`s business formally came to a halt today to honor the late president. But tomorrow with the private funeral and his burial, tomorrow will be another somber day of remembrance as well.
And as I say, today`s national day of mourning is a rare thing. We just do not stop like this as a country very often. But despite this dramatic and poignant pause to remember the late president, the news itself did not come to a halt today. I honestly expected today to be a very slow news day. It did not turn out to be one and some of that is happening outside Washington. Some of it is happening in federal and national news though.
We`ll start in Wisconsin -- actually in Wisconsin and in North Carolina, where there are two big stories that continue to unfold that sort of put shivers down the proverbial spine of small-D democracy. We`re going to have more ahead tonight from Wisconsin on efforts by Republicans in that state to cut the powers and the authorities of the governor and other statewide elected officials, specifically because those positions were just won by Democrats in the midterm elections.
This was seen as an act of unprecedented partisan radicalism when North Carolina Republicans pulled the same stunt a couple of years ago. But apparently, they were writing a new playbook for what Republicans will now do whenever they lose elections anywhere in the country. We`re seeing it in Wisconsin. We`re seeing it in Michigan. We`re seeing it now in other states. So, we will have more on that story ahead tonight this hour.
There`s also the increasingly insane controversy over what really does look like a blatantly, even cinematically criminal scheme to really truly rigged the election in North Carolina`s ninth congressional district on behalf of the Republican candidate in that election, Mark Harris. The scheme now appears to be unraveling in public, subpoenas are flying. The state and the counties involved has started to produce all the original documentation that really lays bare what seems to have happened here. There now appears to be you zero chance that the results of that congressional election will be certified.
But, you know, ultimately, it is up to the House of Representatives itself. It`s up to Congress itself to decide whether and when to seat new members of Congress when there`s a problem with an election or when there`s some other major dispute as to whether or not a person actually belongs in the Congress or not. And in theory, Republicans are supposedly very fired up about the grave threat of election fraud in this country, right? I mean, that`s the boogeyman they trot out to justify all their policy preferences for making voting harder, for restricting access to voting in ways that particularly target likely Democratic voters, especially racial minorities and people who are poor or college students or immigrants.
But on this one, this thing in North Carolina, Republicans in Washington have been remarkably silent and this what really does look like that rarest of American electoral problems. This really does look like an industrial- strength ballot stealing, ballot stuffing professional operation that not only helped Mark Harris appear to win that seat, it also looks like the same operation run by the same people may have helped this guy Mark Harris oust the incumbent Republican member of Congress who used to represent that district back in the primary in May. There was a different Republican who held the seat, right? He was ousted when he lost his own primary to this guy Mark Harris. It looks like the same kind of tactics, illegal tactics may have been used by contractors working for Mark Harris in that primary has worked for him in the general election which have now resulted in a congressional seat that nobody knows what to do with.
This professional election-rigging operation in this one congressional district of North Carolina not only screwed up this one congressional election, it also appears to have cost a Republican incumbent congressman his seat a few months. But still, Republicans in Washington cannot come up with a single word to say about it. They have been fundamentally and absolutely silent on this. Isn`t this supposed to be your thing that you worry about all the time?
Well, now, the incoming Democrats who are about to take control in the House, they are starting to talk about holding hearings in Congress to decide what`s going to happen to that seat and that race and the question of whether anyone should be seated in the Congress to represent that North Carolina district before this is all sorted out in the courts. So, stay tuned for more on that. That story is still developing almost by the hour at this point.
But in the wake of last night`s sentencing statement from special counsel Robert Mueller about Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn, the sentencing statement which feature the special counsel praising Flynn`s cooperation and recommending that Flynn`s serve no jail time, today in the wake of that remarkable document which came out just before we got in the air last night, today, we have had another couple of stories that would seem to indicate that there are another few shoes that are going to drop soon. One concerns this person who appears to have been the first ever person to get Donald Trump the presidential candidate to talk on the record about U.S. sanctions against Russia and the fact that he wanted them dropped.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: OK, let`s go.
MARIA BUTINA: Sorry?
TRUMP: Yes, ma`am.
BUTINA: I`m from Russia. So, my question will be about foreign politics. If you would be elected as the president, what will be your foreign politics especially into the relationships with my country? And do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging of both economy, or you have any other ideas?
TRUMP: I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK? And I mean, well, we have the strength. I don`t think you`d need the sanctions. I think that we would get along very, very well. I really believe that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: First time he ever talked about sanctions.
And we now know, of course, that at the time, Donald Trump presidential candidate was advocating publicly that the U.S. should drop sanctions on Russia, we now know that at the time, he was secretly negotiating with Russia for a very large real estate deal in Moscow, that would be financed by a sanction Russian state-run bank. So, as a presidential candidate, we know that Donald Trump was compromised by Russia. He was secretly negotiating with Russia, including secretly negotiating with Kremlin officials about doing this deal. He was concealing that fact from the American people and for good reason, right? That would have put quite a spin on the fact that he was arguing against Russian sanctions if people had known that he personally needed to get rid of those sanctions so he could get his Trump Tower in Moscow with financing from a sanctioned Russian bank.
The reason that deal was more than just a secret though, the reason that was -- the reason that created a sort of counterintelligence emergency around Trump the candidate is because the Russian government knew that Trump was lying about this to the American people and once they knew that he was trying to cover this thing up, that they knew something about him, they knew the truth about something, they could prove the truth about something that he was trying to keep secret -- well, then they can use that as leverage over him, to pressure him into doing things that he wanted.
That`s what compromise is. He was compromised by the Russian government during the campaign, we now know. And one of the things of course that they wanted that the Russian government wanted then and desperately wants until now is for the U.S. government to drop sanctions on their country.
And looking back at that first comment that Trump ever made about Russian sanctions, it is now just remarkably striking that the person who first set him up as a presidential candidate, who first asked him that question about U.S. sanctions against Russia, who first prompted him to say that he wanted those sanctions dropped, that person is a person who was now in federal custody in Alexandria, Virginia, awaiting trial on charges that she was secretly acting in this country has an agent of the Russian government.
That`s the person who asked Trump that question at Las Vegas event in the summer of 2015. Her name is Maria Butina, and one of the other shoes that we`ve been waiting to drop any day now is in her criminal case, a potential plea deal maybe or some other resolution of the criminal case that is pending against her.
Again, she is in jail awaiting trial on federal charges of being a secret Russian agent operating in this country.
Now, a couple of weeks ago, prosecutors filed this document with the federal court that`s hearing the case against Maria Butina, explaining that they were in negotiations with Butina`s lawyers regarding, quote, a potential resolution of this matter. Now, we had otherwise expected Butina to be in court in Washington tomorrow for an important status update on her case. That has now been delayed because of these supposedly ongoing negotiations between the prosecution and her defense lawyers about somehow resolving her case. We don`t have any idea what that ultimate resolution might be if in fact they do resolve it.
I mean, obviously, the Justice Department has indicted her. They`ve arrested her. They put her in jail. They plan to put her on trial.
It is possible that the resolution of this case will be some sort of plea deal where she pleads guilty to something in exchange for lenient and other ways. That would raise the very interesting prospect of her potentially becoming a cooperating witness for prosecutors in the Russia investigation. That`s very hard to imagine given that she`s charged as a secret agent of the Russian government, but you never know.
Some observers have even speculated that Maria Butina might possibly have her case resolves as part of a spy swap of some kind with the Russian government, and the Kremlin has taken a very keen interest in the Maria Butina case. They have done lots of publicity around it, lots of advocacy around it. They have been very, very active, both publicly advocating and advocating with the U.S. government on her behalf.
I don`t know what they`re offering the U.S. government on her behalf. I don`t know if the U.S. government is in the market for any sort of spy swap with Russians at the moment, but it is not impossible to imagine that Maria Butina`s case might be resolved with something dramatic like that. So we`ve been waiting to find out basically any day now what`s going to happen to this accused Russian foreign agent now that federal prosecutors say they are heading toward a resolution of her case.
Well, while we have been waiting for that to happen, today, Betsy Woodruff and Erin Banco at "The Daily Beast" have reported that enough a person in her case, an American who is named in her case has been warned himself by prosecutors that he might get charged in this case, too.
He`s an American citizen. His name is Paul Erickson. He`s a longtime Republican Party activist. He`s also possibly the boyfriend of Maria Butina, accused Russian agent, although it`s complicated.
According to "The Daily Beast" today, Paul Erickson has received a target letter from federal prosecutors in which prosecutors notify him quote that they are considering bringing charges against him under Section 951 of the U.S. Code, which is the law of barring people from secretly acting as agents of foreign governments. The letter also says the government may bring a conspiracy charge against Erickson.
Now, according to "The Daily Beast", again, this report just out today, this target letter was sent to Paul Erickson a couple of months ago in September. But his lawyer has now shown it to these reporters and while a target letter is not the same thing as an indictment, him receiving a target letter indicates that prosecutors have been seriously considering bringing charges against him, moving in some way toward charges against him. His case for also serving as a secret foreign agent working on behalf of Russia and against the United States just like his ersatz girlfriend.
And, you know, this is not totally a surprise. In the Justice Department`s court filings for its charges against Maria Butina, this guy Paul Erickson does turn up multiple times when the government is describing her alleged crimes and how she went out this scheme to influence the U.S., to influence the U.S. government the Republican Party and the conservative movement in this country on behalf of Russia. He`s described as person number one in the court filings as best as we can tell.
From her court filings, quote, during the course of her -- prosecutors, quote, during the course of her work, meaning Butina`s work as a covert Russian agent, Butina regularly met and communicated with an unnamed Russian official and U.S. person one, this guy Paul Erickson, quote, to plan and develop the contours of the influence operation.
There`s also this. Quote, on October 4th, 2016, so a month before the election, U.S. person one, Paul Ericson, sent an email to an acquaintance. Within the email, Erickson stated, unrelated to specific presidential campaigns, I`ve been involved in securing a, all-caps, very private line of communication between the Kremlin and key Republican Party leaders through of all conduits the NRA.
So, again, U.S. Republican activist Paul Erickson is now reported as of today to have received a target letter from U.S. federal prosecutors, letting him know that federal prosecutors have moved toward considering charges against him for operating as a secret agent of a foreign government which appears to be the Russian government. Now, a target letter isn`t the same as an indictment, but if the government either has already charged him, we don`t know about it publicly, but if they have already charged him or if they`re planning on being those charges against Erickson, that will be a very interesting new development in the Maria Butina case, which I`m - - I`m interested in for a lot of reasons but in particular because of the way it links back to the president and his first public comments about Russian sanctions.
But if Erickson either has been or is about to be charged, there`s also the NRA piece of it. This may finally throw some sunlight on this dark and frankly sort of worrying question that has lingered since the campaign, certainly since Maria Butina was charged as to whether or not the NRA, the National Rifle Association may have been used to some sort of conduit for Russian government influence, Russian secret communications or even potentially Russian money in the operation by the Russian government to try to swing the U.S. presidential election for Trump and against Clinton.
So, that dropped today with that important report in "The Daily Beast" about Paul Erickson getting a targeting letter from federal prosecutors. In addition to that, the "Associated Press" also reported today that federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York appear to have sprung back into action on another element of the Russia scandal that involves President Trump`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Paul Manafort who incidentally now lives in the same jail as Maria Butina, although he`s on the boys side and he of course has been convicted of multiple felonies while she is still awaiting trial.
According to the "Associated Press" today, quote: prosecutors are ramping up their investigation into foreign lobbying by two major Washington firms that did work for former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. Quote: In a flurry of new activity, Justice Department prosecutors in the last several weeks have begun interviewing witnesses and contacting lawyers to schedule additional questioning related to the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs.
Now those are two firms that were implicitly accused in Manafort court filings of essentially illegal lobbying, of knowingly getting paid to represent the pro-Russia, Ukrainian government for Paul Manafort. Prosecutors have already cited evidence in court filings related to the Manafort case that indicate that these firms lied about pretending they didn`t know who they were working for. The implication that prosecutors already sketched out about these firms is that they knew full well that they were lobbying for Ukraine, they did not want to register as lobbying for Ukraine, and so they created these fig leaves, these pretenses that made it seem like maybe they weren`t when they knew full well that`s what they were doing.
According to the "Associated Press" today, again, federal prosecutors have ramped back up this part of the investigation and they appear to be trying to chase down this part of the case which was initially raised in conjunction with Paul Manafort`s prosecution.
So as I said, we got this fairly dramatic sentencing filing about Mike Flynn, the president`s first national security adviser and how he fits into the overall Russia scandal. We got this last night. In the immediate wake of that today, we got a whole bunch of new indications about new elements of this that may be unfolding now.
But there`s just one other piece of this that relates specifically to the president himself and it was raised last night by the Flynn filing. It`s not received much attention today but I think you should know about this in terms of expecting what might happen next. I should also tell you, Congressman Adam Schiff from the Intelligence Committee is going to be here with us live in just a moment. Do stay with us.
MADDOW: I swear this is not a stunt. I swear I did not know this is going to happen. I did not plan this. I swear.
But just in the past few minutes, just moments ago literally while I was talking on the TV machine about the Maria Butina case and how we`re expecting any day now to find out what`s going to happen to her case because prosecutors and her defense lawyers told the court that they`ve been working toward a resolution of her case of some kind, like is there going to be -- leading speculation -- is there going to be a plea deal? Is she going to become a cooperating witness? Could there be some sort of a spy swap?
What could be the resolution of the Maria Butina case? She is in jail awaiting charges right now or in jail charged awaiting trial right now, on charges that she has been operating as a secret agent of the Russian government in this country. Literally while I was saying that, just moments ago, we just got a new court filing in Maria Butina case in which - - do we had? Can we put it up?
In which the judge in her case just the second has just scheduled a telephone conference for the prosecution and the defense to join the judge tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. Again, this comes as prosecutors and defense lawyers say they have been actively negotiating to resolve this case. Maybe they`re going to do it on the phone tomorrow, but that happened while I was talking about it.
Maybe the judge was watching. She saw me start to talk about it and said, oh, yes, we need to have -- I doubt it.
All right. One of the things that struck me last night about the Mike Flynn sentencing document that we got from Mueller`s office last night is that it is so almost unequivocally positive about Mike Flynn and the cooperation that he has offered the special counsel`s office. And, yes, the special counsel`s office does describe Mike Flynn`s criminal behavior and says that that behavior is serious.
But when it comes to his interactions with the special counsel`s office since Flynn pled guilty and agreed to cooperate, in this document, the special counsel just could not be more uniformly and unequivocally delighted when it comes to his performance, with how quickly he cooperated, how completely the truthfulness of the information he provided, how helpful it was for other investigations. Even as they say he provided crucial information that aided multiple investigations that are still ongoing, investigations that can`t be disclosed to the public that are redacted in these public facing filings that we got last night, they are still so happy with the information they got from Mike Flynn that they don`t want to delay his sentencing any longer even as these cases are still pending. They want the judge to put this matter to rest for good old Mike Flynn. He has been an ideal cooperator.
This is not how the special counsel`s office usually talks about targets and witnesses in this case, right? I mean in terms of other people associated with the Trump campaign, for example Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, in his case, the special counsel`s office told the court that man apart with a terrible cooperator. He had breached his cooperation agreement. He had lied. They didn`t intend to keep their end of the bargain anymore either and they`re going to lay out his lies and everything bad he ever did in his life in a filing we expect by the end of the week.
In the case of George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign advisor, the special counsel`s office went out of its way to say that Papadopoulos did not provide substantial assistance to them. He did not provide useful information and by the way he dragged his feet and was slow about everything that he did offers so he wasn`t much help.
The contrast with their praise for what they got out of Flynn just could not be more stark. So here`s my question about Flynn and one of the reasons that I wanted to talk to Congressman Adam Schiff from the Intelligence Committee tonight: Why is Trump so consistently psyched about Mike Flynn? I mean, you know, Michael Cohen has also apparently become a fulsome cooperator with the special counsel`s office.
The president now can barely move his thumbs without tweeting something disparaging and undermining about Michael Cohen, insulting him, right, giving him derogatory nicknames, going so far as to publicly call on the judge in the Cohen case to throw the book at Michael Cohen, give him the maximum sentence, because Michael Cohen is cooperating and that`s terrible. You know, but not a peep about Mike Flynn, not at all since Flynn pled guilty and became a cooperator more than a year ago. And not even since the nature of Flynn`s cooperation was made public, which is now more than 24 hours ago.
And this extends a pretty remarkable streak by Donald Trump when it comes to Mike Flynn and it has always seemed a little bit curious, but now, it actually seems incredible, not incredible as in fantastic but incredible as in not credible, as there must be something else going on here, there`s more than meets the eye. Why has Trump been so invested in defending and only consistently praising and never criticizing Mike Flynn from the very beginning? Why is he gone so far out of his way to only have positive things to say and do and only have things to offer Mike Flynn?
When President-elect Trump two days after the election went to the White House to meet with then-President Barack Obama, we were told that President Obama warned Trump about two specific things -- he warned him that North Korea would be a very serious national security matter, that he wouldn`t be able to avoid dealing with. And in addition to North Korea, multiple sources reported that the other warning that Obama gave Trump was about Mike Flynn and Obama told Trump specifically -- don`t hire Mike Flynn for anything sensitive or for anything particularly high-ranking, take my advice, not that guy, that`s my one warning besides North Korea.
Nevertheless, Trump decided that he would name Mike Flynn as national security adviser anyway. Then during the transition, before Trump was sworn in, Mike Flynn`s lawyers sent up another red flag. They notified the Trump transition that Flynn in fact was under federal investigation for having secretly acted as an agent of a foreign power during the campaign, as an agent of the Turkish government, even though he hadn`t declared himself as such.
So, he`s being considered for national security advisor his lawyers say he`s the subject of an active federal criminal investigation. Nevertheless, despite that notification, Trump remained intent that he would name Flynn his national security advisor. Then also during the transition, a minor crisis arose involving Mike Flynn and his devotion to his son Mike Jr.
Mike Flynn Jr. during the transition continued what had been a string of embarrassing and offensive public behavior which led to questions about why Mike Flynn Jr. was surfing in the Trump transition and why in fact the Trump transition had applied for a security clearance for this kid. The head of the Trump transition was Vice President-elect Mike Pence, he publicly denied that Mike Flynn`s son was any part of the transition. It turns out Mike Flynn son was, so that was an embarrassing thing to Vice President-elect Pence to have been called out about.
Reporters immediately called him on the fact that if Flynn Jr. wasn`t on the transition, why was he emailing them all from an official Trump transition email address? So, that was fairly embarrassing during the transition and specifically for Mike Pence who was supposedly running the transition, he never was able to come up with an explanation for why Mike Flynn`s son had been put up for a security clearance by the transition. Pence appeared to not even know that he was there. let alone that he`d been put forward for something like that.
But nevertheless, even after that embarrassment, the administration still went forward with plans to name Mike Flynn national security adviser. Then as soon as the administration started, four days after Trump was sworn in, the red flags turned into giant waving red banners that occluded the view from the house because they drape from the roof to the ground. Four days after Trump was sworn in, the Trump White House got that extraordinary warning from the Justice Department that Flynn wasn`t just all these other things they learned about and been told to worry about had problems with when it come to him already. Flynn in fact was compromised by the Russian government.
And the clear implication of that dramatic unprecedented learning that the national security adviser was compromised by a hostile foreign power the clear implication of that warning was that they needed to get that guy out of there, out of the White House immediately -- a huge national security risk. They certainly needed to cut off his access to classified information since the government of Russia had compromised him and the implication of that is they could get anything out of him that they wanted. Don`t let him have access to any important classified information, my god.
Nevertheless, the Trump White House didn`t react at all. Apparently, they didn`t react privately. They didn`t react publicly. They kept him on another 18 days, and they let him retain his access to highly classified information. No urgency to get him out of there whatsoever, no alarm, no worries.
And then when the public reporting about this crisis continued and they finally had to give in and allow him to resign, the president praised him publicly and then the very next day, the president immediately went to the FBI director and told the FBI director he needed to quash the FBI investigation into Mike Flynn, told the FBI director that the FBI needed to drop it with Mike Flynn.
Thereafter, President Trump also went to the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates and reportedly told him too, he needed to intercede with the FBI, quash the investigation into Mike Flynn. Thereafter, one of the president`s lawyers, John Dowd, reportedly they went to Mike Flynn and offered him a presidential pardon. Why?
I mean, what explains this elaborate routine of like, you know, back bends, back flips, layout reverse ham springs? I mean, they`re not just sticking up for Mike Flynn, they`re insisting on Mike Flynn. They`re insisting on the necessity of Mike Flynn. They`re making every excuse for Mike Flynn.
It`s not three strikes, you`re out, it`s like three hundred and thirty strikes you`re still in. I mean, the president risked criminal exposure himself by intervening with the FBI to try to get leniency, specifically for Mike Flynn. Why? Out of loyalty because Mike Flynn had been involved in the Trump campaign?
You can tell that to Jeff Sessions if you think that`s a guarantee of Trump`s lifelong loyalty towards you, right, once you start to get him in trouble or otherwise -- otherwise annoy him. Tell that to Steve Bannon or as Trump now calls him, sloppy Steve, who`s lost his mind. Yes, he`s real loyal to everybody who helped him in his campaign.
What is it about Mike Flynn specifically that has made Trump go to the ends of the earth for him, that has kept Trump from ever talking sack about him even now? Honestly, don`t you things weird that a Trump still does not talk smack about Mike Flynn not even now, not even after we learned that Mike Flynn did 19 different interviews with the special counsel`s office and left them so pleased with the information he had to offer that he`s going to do no jail time himself and they just did a sentencing memo that basically calls him a saint and says he`s awesome and they couldn`t have done it without him? Not a peep from Trump about that?
I mean, the only other dude who Trump is so consistently positive about and refuses to ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever criticize no matter the cost, the only other person he treats like this is freaking Putin. So, what does that tell us about what has just gone down here with Mike Flynn in a special counsel`s office and what is Flynn`s sentencing going to lead to next?
The person who is perhaps best situated to answer that question in the country other than Mueller himself is Congressman Adam Schiff and he joins us next.
MADDOW: Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff. He is the top Democrat on the intelligence committee in the House, starting in January. He is expected to be the committee`s chairman.
Congressman, thank you very much for being with us tonight. Thanks for making time.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You bet.
MADDOW: So, we`ve got a bunch of news in the past hours or so about the Russia scandal and particularly about the legal maneuverings around that scandal. "Daily Beast" is now reporting that a Republican operative named Paul Erickson, he`s tied to the Maria Butina case, he`s received a target letter from federal prosecutors now saying that he may also be charged as an agent of a foreign power.
The "A.P." is reporting that federal prosecutors are moving with speed now against firms that may have been illegally lobbying for a foreign government as part of Manafort`s operations in Ukraine.
Also, we got the filing last night in the Michael Flynn case in which the special counsel`s office praised his cooperation and recommended no jail time for him.
As somebody who`s got a pretty good grasp on the overall status of the investigation and the scandal writ large, are all these things happening at once coincidentally or do you think that we are entering into a new sort of rapidly unfolding phase here?
SCHIFF: I don`t think it`s a coincidence and what I fear although I don`t know this is the case is that the appointment of Whitaker may have accelerated a lot of things that the special counsel would have preferred to take into time. I hope that`s not the case, but it wouldn`t surprise me if that was at least part of the motivation.
But, you know, in terms of Flynn, I think one thing we need to remember is, it`s not just that Mueller is recommending no jail time. That`s a pretty extraordinary you know himself. This is a former national security adviser lying about a national security matter and doing so in cahoots with the Russians.
But it`s also that when that plea was entered into, Mueller essentially made the decision not to proceed on a whole range of other allegations involving Flynn. So, Flynn is getting effectively a recommendation no jail time on any of the conduct he was involved in. That would require very substantial cooperation, and it appears that Mueller got it.
When you look at the cooperation agreement that Flynn signed it required him to do essentially anything special counsel asked including wearing a wire. So, it certainly looks like the cooperation was very fulsome. Whether that is leading to some of these other developments right now, it`s hard to say.
MADDOW: You mentioned Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker there. We can tell from reading the special counsels regulations, the regulations that create the concept of a special counsel within the Justice Department, that somebody in Whitaker`s role as acting attorney general would be able to influence major steps in the investigation, could potentially kibosh or otherwise steer major steps in the investigation and we assume that things that count as major steps would be like new indictments, any sort of public report at the end of the investigation if something like that is going to happen.
Are you suggesting that Whitaker`s influence here may have extended to what just happened with Mike Flynn to the terms of the deal that were offered to Mike Flynn, to the nature of this recommendation to the judge that Flynn not go to jail?
SCHIFF: I don`t know that it would have affected the terms that were being offered to Mike Flynn, but it may have affected some of the timing. It may be part of the rush here.
Now, part of it may also be due to the fact that during that period before the election, the special counsels effectively had to go dark in terms of any new deals or prosecutions, but it also could be affected by the new person at the top.
The other thing I would mention in terms of Flynn is one area where we know that he can and must have offered cooperation to special counsel is, we know that he told those in the transition team, including a very senior transition official about his conversation about sanctions with the Russian ambassador, which means that when the vice president went out and misrepresented this to the country, there were other high-ranking people who knew the vice president was misrepresenting it, unknowingly we assume, but misrepresenting it. They apparently did nothing or said nothing public about it. Mike Flynn can offer a lot of insights on who those people are, what conversations went on.
And the final point I would make, Rachel, is there is a common denominator about a lot of these issues and a lot of these characters you`re mentioning. As you played earlier, Maria Butina`s conversation with Donald Trump in that interview was about sanctions. Mike Flynn was lying about his conversation with a Russian ambassador about sanctions, the meeting at Trump Tower between Kushner and Manafort and Don Jr. that they later denied happened and then admit it happen but said it was about adoptions, that was about sanctions. There`s been allegations about Mike Flynn and a nuclear power deal that would involve removal of sanctions.
Time and time again, there`s a marriage of business interests, making money and talk about sanctions. Erik Prince and the Seychelles meeting with a Russian banker. Jared Kushner meeting with a Russian banker.
There are a lot of bankers. Aleksandr Torshin is part of that group, along with Maria Butina and Paul Erickson, a lot of players with a deep interest in doing away with Russian sanctions, including Donald Trump.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee -- sir, I have always found it edifying to talk to you about this matter, knowing now that you are about to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee and hearing you talk about those kinds of connections in those lines of inquiry, I feel fundamentally different about it. I feel edified, but I also feel like I`m getting prepped to finally learn some answers to those questions. Thank you for helping us understand, sir.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
All right. Much more to come tonight, stay with us.
MADDOW: This was unexpected. From Politico.com this week, quote: The House GOP campaign arm suffered a major hack during the election, exposing thousands of sensitive emails to an outside intruder, according to three senior party officials. The email accounts of four senior aides at the National Republican Congressional Committee were surveilled for several months.
The intrusion was detected in April by an NRCC vendor who alerted the committee and its cybersecurity contractor, an internal investigation was initiated and the FBI was alerted to the attack. However, senior House Republicans weren`t informed of the attack until "Politico" contacted the NRCC on Monday with questions about the episode. Rank-and-file House Republicans weren`t told either.
So the campaign arm of the Republican Party that`s designed to elect and reelect Republican members of Congress didn`t tell any Republican members of Congress that this was happening? Despite the fact being a total secret, even from Republican lawmakers themselves, "Politico" reports that the NRCC paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to a prominent DC law and also to a major PR firm to manage the response to the hack.
Why would you hire a PR firm to deal with the response to the hack when nobody knows that the hack happened?
Then there`s this, quote: Party officials would not say when the hack began or who was behind it, although they privately believed it was a foreign agent due to the nature of the attack.
I have a number of questions about this. First and foremost, what was the nature of the attack that leads the Republican Party`s House campaign arm to believe that this attack out of them was of a foreign origin? And what is the nature of the attack?
One of the things that we can tell is that none of the information that was stolen from the Republican Party during the election was ever released to the public. We would know if it was, we`d see it, but we never saw it.
Republican Party officials also tell "Politico" that in addition to this information not being released publicly are being used against the party in any obvious way. There were also no threats or blackmail attempts associated with this stuff.
So, what was done with this stolen information from the NRCC? What about the nature of this attack? What about the nature of that indicates that this was a foreign attack?
But then they believed it was a foreign attack. OK, who was it? I mean, if this was Russia doing the hacking, that would be absolutely fascinating because that would be the second time we know that Russia has stolen stuff from the Republican Party and then sat on it and done nothing with it.
U.S. intelligence agencies -- remember this -- they determined that during the 2016 presidential campaign, yes, there was the big consequential DNC attack that they made such hay of for months. But in addition to that, the Russians also collected material from unspecified Republican affiliated targets. The difference is that none of that material was ever disseminated to hurt those Republican targets in the same way that the Democrats stuff was.
So what was it about, right? Is the NRCC implying that they were hurt in some way by this intrusion? If so, how? They believe this was a foreign attacker. If so, who?
If the material wasn`t publicly released, it wasn`t used for ransom or blackmail, it wasn`t used against House Republican candidates, what happened to it? I mean, is there any possibility that it was given to the NRCC`s political opponents or to Democrats or to the press and we just haven`t heard about it yet? And why would the Republicans need to hire a really big expensive PR firm to manage the response to this given that their PR effort around this was to keep it entirely secret?
One of the reporters behind this strange and puzzling scoop joins us next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Alex Isenstadt joins us now. He broke the story at "Politico" that during the campaign this year, the midterm election campaign, the Republican Party`s campaign arm for House races was hit with a major hacking attack, but they kept it a secret before Alex Isenstadt and John Bresnahan`s reporting on this this week, nobody knew about this at all.
Mr. Isenstadt, congratulations on this scoop. Thanks for joining us.
ALEX ISENSTADT, REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Do you have any sense why the NRCC thinks this was a foreign attack?
ISENSTADT: So, when we started asking questions about this, we were told basically they concluded the attack was of sort of a sophisticated nature, and we haven`t really been able to firmly come to grips who exactly was behind this, but we heard to names of a couple of countries including China and Russia potentially.
MADDOW: Do we how the NRCC was compromised? I mean, were there e-mails just stolen and that was the end of it? Was the NRCC damaged in anyway?
ISENSTADT: Basically, you had a situation where there were four of the top officials basically had their e-mail accounts hacked. They discovered in April of this year. And basically whoever it is who hacked them had months and months of access to literally thousands of their e-mails.
MADDOW: Part of the thing that puzzled me about your reporting the news they spent a ton of money reporting a PR firm and kept it secret. Did they expect some kind of dissemination of this material? Was the PR firm hired because they want today be ready to respond if this stuff ended up in the public eye?
ISENSTADT: Yes, it`s a great question. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a big name PR firm and a big name law firm. And behind the scenes while they -- really while the committee was actually short on cash to spend money on races, remember they were trying to save the House this year, they were spending big bucks to help protect themselves on this hacking matter.
And it`s the best I can understand, they felt they need to protect themselves should these e-mails be publicly disseminated. They felt they needed to have some kind of PR strategy in place once word of this hack got out or once these emails got out. And they felt they also had to deal with it in a legal context.
MADDOW: Alex Isenstadt, political reporter at "Politico" -- this is remarkable scoop. I can`t wait to hear sort of the rest of the story when we figure it out. Thank you for helping us understand.
ISENSTADT: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Recapping our top story for tonight, remember that after today`s state funeral in Washington, D.C., tomorrow will be the private funeral for former President George H.W. Bush. Private does not mean small. There are something like 1,200 invited guests who will be part of the private service for George H.W. Bush tomorrow in Texas. His body will then be brought to College Station, Texas, by train.
College Station is the site of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library. And that is where he will be buried tomorrow in what will be a private burial ceremony just with the Bush family. So, today`s day of mourning and state funeral to be followed by another very solemn day honoring the late president tomorrow.
But that does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
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