RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well. Can I have this, please? Thank you very much. Sometimes things arrive late.
The government may be shut down, but we have just learned tonight from reporter Carol Leonnig in "The Washington Post" that the Trump White House has just hired 17 new lawyers to help them handle the fallout of the Mueller investigation and any potential fallout from Democrats taking over the investigative committees in Congress, and that is not like me rounding up to the nearest 17 to come up with a ridiculously large sounding number. What "The Washington Post" is reporting tonight is that they have literally just hired 17 new lawyers for the president at the White House.
Here is the headline in this late-breaking story. Quote: A beefed-up White House legal team prepares aggressive defense of Trump`s executive privilege as investigations loom large.
Here is the lead: A beefed up White House legal team is gearing up to prevent President Trump`s confidential discussions with top advisers from being disclosed to House Democratic investigators and revealed in the special counsel`s long-awaited report, setting the stage for a potential clash between the branches of government.
Quote: The strategy to strongly assert the president`s executive privilege on both fronts is being developed under newly arrived White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who has hired 17 lawyers in recent weeks to help in the effort.
In preparation for these looming legal battles, Cipollone has been beefing up the White House counsel`s office since his arrival in December. Cipollone has increased the staff to roughly 35 lawyers and aims to further bolster the ranks up to 40 in coming weeks.
You know, until now, it has been a sort of weird dichotomy in this presidency. I think it`s the sort of thing that historians when they look back at this presidency, they will end up noting this. And that is that President Trump, of course, has been at the center of the most serious presidential scandals probably in U.S. history. He`s facing the most serious investigations of any president ever. He is probably facing the most serious legal jeopardy of any president in U.S. history.
But at the same time, his legal defense has been a crazy quilt. I mean, there`s his long-time personal lawyer who has both flipped against him and is now awaiting the start of his federal prison term. There are the unusual hires, the unusual choices he made for his initial counsel to handle the Russia investigation. They both flamed out, but not before distinguishing themselves by having loud conversations about very sensitive aspects of the president`s legal defense at an outdoor table at a Washington restaurant while they were seated next to a reporter from "The New York Times" who promptly reported everything they said.
The president has also had a man named Rudy Giuliani working as part of his legal team, and I`m not going to say anything about that. He has also had a Fox News talk radio lawyer guy representing him whose previous legal experience was mostly like Ten Commandments monuments.
And whatever you think of that roster, for a president facing such serious legal problems, like the ones President Trump is facing, it has been a weird thing that his legal representation has not been like A-list folks, or even B-list. It`s been like a grab bag. They`re the white elephant lawyers who were otherwise available.
It`s been a strange mismatch between the presidential legal jeopardy here and the presidential legal defense. Up until now. Now that would seem to be changing, if in fact the new White House counsel really has just added 17 new lawyers to the White House counsel`s office within the past couple of weeks, and none of them are people who are also planning on continuing their talk radio shows while they do this gig.
It is awkward, though, that that hiring of 17 new lawyers for the president, that maps neatly on to this government shutdown, which is now in its 19th day. You may have seen today the Coast Guard just published a handy guide for its personnel during the shutdown, a new guard for personnel titled managing your finances during a furlough. The five-page tip sheet advises Coast Guard personnel that they should, quote, be creative to find supplemental income during the furlough period.
Quote, here are a few ideas for adding income. Quote, have a garage sale, offer to watch children, walk pets, or house sit. Turn your hobby into income. Wouldn`t that depend on your hobby?
Quote, become a mystery shopper. Retailers are desperate to check how their in-store customer service is, and will employee you to shop and rate their service.
It`s one of a handful of tips for Coast Guard personnel. This is coast guard advice to their personnel for how to try to piece it together as the shutdown grinds on. The FDA, which oversees the safety of 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, the FDA has also now announced that they have suspended all routine inspections of domestic food processing facilities. Oh.
According to an interview, the FDA commissioner just did with "The Washington Post," the FDA is now looking to try to figure out some way they might be able to get some inspectors back on the job, maybe next week, despite the shutdown, if only so they can start looking at the really high risk stuff, like seafood and soft cheeses and vegetables, food that has posed particular risks in terms of food borne illnesses in this country. Yes. Why do we need the government inspectors? Those are just bean counters, right?
I mean, as we have reported over the course of the shutdown, the U.S. judiciary system, the federal court system is due to be out of money the day after tomorrow, whereupon individual courts and judges will have to start triaging, making decisions themselves about what`s going to happen with U.S. federal justice from here on out. But while that is all happening, the White House counsel`s office has just hired 17 new lawyers to deal with the president`s scandals.
Carol Leonnig`s article in "The Post" tonight suggests that some of the urgency there leading to the hiring of 17 new lawyers may be due to expectations that the special counsel`s office, its investigation, the Mueller investigation may be heading into its final act. Quote: There is a growing sense that the special counsel`s closely held investigation could come to culmination soon. Some Trump advisers think Mueller could deliver the confidential report explaining his findings to senior Justice Department officials next month.
Quote: Under the rules authorizing the special counsel, the attorney general can then decide whether to share the report or parts of it with Congress and the public. Some House leaders have vowed to immediately seek to obtain a copy of Mueller`s findings. White House advisers say the White House would resist the release of any details describing confidential and sensitive communications between the president and his senior aides. And apparently they have hired this fleet of a dozen and a half new lawyers and counting in order to try to support that expected strategy.
I`ll -- just between us, I will tell you I personally have been aggressively agnostic when it comes to any expectations about the overall scope of the Mueller investigation or its timing or what Mueller plans to do in terms of some sort of report or not. I am agnostic on those matters. I think that I don`t know.
But you should know that NBC News tonight has another separate piece of reporting that really bolsters those expectations about Mueller that are being described in "The Washington Post" tonight, those expectations that Mueller may be heading toward his big reveal. We all woke up this morning to the headlines in multiple news sources. ABC News was first, but a number of news organizations quickly got the story, that Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein is planning to leave the Justice Department, and that is a big freakin` deal.
Rod Rosenstein is, of course, a key figure in the Mueller investigation, into everything else that a deputy attorney general does. Deputy attorney general essentially runs the Justice Department. But on the Russia investigation in particular, Rosenstein`s been key, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions was recused from everything having to do with the Russia investigation. It was Rosenstein who appointed Robert Mueller to be special counsel in the first place.
And Rosenstein has since played a day-to-day role, apparently through to the present day in overseeing Mueller`s work. That day-to-day oversight rule by Rosenstein has reportedly persisted in recent weeks, even while new Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has been at the Justice Department. At least nominally he has been in charge.
The new prospect in all these headlines today that Rosenstein is about to leave, that of course has very serious implications for oversight of the Mueller investigation at a crucial time. But this is what NBC News`s Pete Williams is reporting tonight about Rosenstein`s plans, and this is potentially really important.
According to Pete Williams and Allen Smith at NBC News, quote: A source close to Rosenstein says he intends to stay on until Mueller submits a report to the Justice Department on the Russian meddling investigation. The source said that would mean Rosenstein would remain until early March. That would imply that Mueller`s report will be out and done by early March. Quote, several legal sources have said that they expect the Mueller team to submit its report by mid- to late February, although they say that timeline could change based on unforeseen investigative developments.
So that was the story at NBCnews.com earlier from Pete Williams. Pete Williams tonight has updated the story to add more detail about these expectations, and I can share some of that reporting with you now. According to NBC News` Pete Williams tonight, a source close to Rosenstein says that Rosenstein`s intention is to stay until Mueller winds down the bulk of the investigative and courtroom work in the Russia investigation. According to this single source close to Rosenstein, quote, that could be mid- to late February.
Several weeks later, Mueller would present his report to the Justice Department. Multiple sources are also telling NBC News that Mueller is near the end of his investigation and will soon begin paring down staff.
Again, that is reporting tonight from NBC News. It`s obviously important both in terms of what`s going to happen with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, how long he`s going to stay at the Justice Department, how that departure may be keyed to what`s going on in the Mueller investigation. That`s also very important reporting when it comes to the Mueller investigation itself. So, we`ll have more on that coming up a little bit later on this hour.
But meanwhile, here is something that you should watch for first thing tomorrow. Despite the ongoing and now critical government shutdown, Congress is going to be in session tomorrow, and the secretary of the treasury, Steven Mnuchin, is going to be at the House tomorrow. He is going to be briefing members of Congress, members of the house on the decision made by his department just before Christmas to drop sanctions on companies controlled by this guy, a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin who was sanctioned specifically because of Russia`s interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
His name is Oleg Deripaska. He is subject to U.S. sanctions. He is banned from entering the United States. Awkwardly, he also has a history of doing a lot of business with President Trump`s now convicted felon campaign chairman Paul Manafort. "The Associated Press" reported soon after Trump`s inauguration that Manafort had entered into a contract with Deripaska in which he would be paid $10 million a year to promote the interest of Vladimir Putin`s government around the world.
"The Washington Post" and "The Atlantic" magazine also both reported on Manafort`s private communications during the time he was running the Trump campaign, including Manafort reportedly offering through his right-hand man in business, Konstantin Kilimnik, who U.S. federal prosecutors have twice described in court filings as being linked to Russian intelligence. According to communications obtain and published by "The Washington Post" and "The Atlantic" magazine, Manafort, during the time he was running Trump`s presidential campaign, offered Deripaska, quote, private briefings on the presidential campaign at Deripaska`s convenience.
Kilimnik was Manafort`s business partner. He appears to have been the go- between between Manafort and this Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska who is now sanctioned. Kilimnik himself is believed by the FBI to be associated with Russian intelligence.
Well, on December 19th, last month right before Christmas, the Trump administration, Treasury Department and the Trump administration announced that they were going to relax sanctions on Oleg Deripaska`s companies. And you know, there was always going to be blowback against that because of the reason Deripaska was sanctioned in the first place, and also because of Deripaska`s troubling links to the Trump campaign at the time that Russia was interfering in the U.S. election.
But when they announced the relaxation of the Deripaska sanctions right before Christmas, one neat trick that Steven Mnuchin and the Treasury Department played with that timing is because of that timing, they made sure there would be almost no opportunity for Congress to object to that decision, to potentially force the reversal of that sanctions decision. Under U.S. law, Congress has 30 days after the announcement of a sanctions decision like this to express its objections and to block the administration`s decision.
By announcing it on December 19th, which is what they did, right before Christmas and right before a now indefinite government shutdown, by doing it on December 19th, the Trump administration ensured there wouldn`t be all that many working days in Washington before that 30-day window closed, after which Congress would be powerless to stop or reverse this decision.
Well, as we reported last night, seven Democratic chairmen of House committees nevertheless have objected now. They wrote to Steven Mnuchin yesterday. They demanded that he appear before the house to explain treasury`s decision to relax these sanctions. That`s why Mnuchin will be at the house tomorrow. He`ll be giving a classified briefing to interested members of Congress about that decision to relax sanctions on this Russian oligarch.
And I know what you`re thinking. I know you`re thinking yes, sure, Maddow, I know. But that`s just the Democratic-controlled House. What can they do on this?
Actually, in this case, this one potentially could be a bipartisan and bicameral thing. And I say that not as sort of a naive hope. I say that because of recent history. Republicans in both the House and the Senate, they have actually been willing to defy Trump on the issue of Russian sanctions, even if they haven`t been able to find an independent bone in their body on any other subject. They have done this. I mean, Trump objected vehemently in 2017 when Congress first voted to create this structure for Russian sanctions, which allows Congress to object and reverse the administration`s decisions on these sorts of things within 30 days.
The White House complained about it. They said they didn`t want it. But at the time, Congress, both houses of Congress, Democrats and Republicans were sufficiently freaked out by the Trump administration on this issue that they voted absolutely overwhelmingly to defy the president specifically on this issue of Russian sanctions. That vote in 2017 was 98- 2 in the Senate. It was 419-3 in the House.
So, yes, we are going to see Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin dragged before the House tomorrow to try to explain what they just did by lifting these Russian sanctions. And yes, the house is now controlled by Democrats, but that doesn`t mean that the Republican-controlled Senate might not object to the lifting of these sanctions as well. Don`t laugh. It has happened before, and it has happened specifically on this issue.
And, in fact, we just got a statement from the banking committee in the Senate on this issue suggesting that this really is something that might get some bipartisan objections. Here is the statement. Quote: Bipartisan staff of the Senate banking committee -- bipartisan staff -- are formally reviewing treasury`s decision to lift sanctions on three firms that were sanctioned for being owned or controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The decision raises key questions that the administration must answer.
We go ahead and posted the full statement we`ve got from the Democratic spokesperson on the Banking Committee tonight. You can see it at our website at maddowblog.com. But the key insight here is that it`s bipartisan. That both the Democratic staff and the Republican staff on the banking committee in the Senate are working on this question of whether or not those sanctions really ought to have been reversed for Oleg Deripaska`s companies.
So that is now a live and interesting question. We have almost -- right, there is almost never any suspense as to whether or not something will happen on a bipartisan basis. It never does. But this is a live question, which may defy some of the partisan nonsense we have seen on every other issue. Is it really shady that the Trump administration is trying to lift sanctions on Oleg Deripaska`s business empire right now given Oleg Deripaska`s relationship to Russian interference in our election and the larger scandal that relates to the Trump administration therein.
If it is shady that the Trump administration is trying to lift these sanctions now, could this actually be something where both halves of Congress and both parties act, like they did before on Russian sanctions, to brush back the Trump administration on this issue. Live question, and we`re going to have more on that coming up tonight as well.
And that relates, of course, to the new revelations about Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. As we learned yesterday, Manafort`s defense team inadvertently disclosed information in a court filing yesterday that was supposed to be redacted, but apparently Manafort`s lawyers don`t know how to use that part of the software that prevents people from reading the text behind the black boxes. Part of what we accidentally learned because of those bad redactions yesterday is that prosecutors in the special counsel`s office have alleged that Manafort shared polling data from the 2016 campaign with his business associate Konstantin Kilimnik. And again, Kilimnik has twice been described in court filings as having links to Russian intelligence in the view of the FBI.
Kilimnik himself has now been indicted in the Russia scandal. He has not, however, been arrested or brought into a U.S. court. He is believed to have fled to Russia to avoid U.S. justice, which means we may never see him in this country again. There is also very few known photos of him. This is almost one of the only ones we`ve got. He is just not a person who you have seen on television.
But it`s interesting. In April of last year, Radio Free Europe was able to track down Konstantin Kilimnik, and they were able to conduct a brief interview with him, in part about his relationship with Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. It`s an audio interview. It took place in a sort of noisy cafe, but we`ve got the audio of it. And so you can hear how Konstantin Kilimnik in this interview describes Paul Manafort and what Paul Manafort was good at in his work.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
KONSTANTIN KILIMNIK, MANAFORT ASSOCIATE: I can say this on the record. Manafort is a guy who can merge strategy and messages into something that will work for victory. I mean, he has done before this all across the world, and he has done it really -- which is very skillful. I mean, honestly, I`ve seen him work in different countries, and he really just does, you know, takes very seriously his polling and, you know, he can stand, you know, two weeks going through the data, and he`ll come with the best strategy you can ever have, and he`ll put it on the table of the candidate.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Takes very seriously his polling. He will spend weeks going through the data. Again, that is the voice of Konstantin Kilimnik, who is believed to have fled to Russia. He has been indicted in the Mueller investigation. He is assessed by the FBI to be actively linked to Russian intelligence.
For years he worked alongside Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and in that interview, Kilimnik is describing what he sees as sort of Paul Manafort`s secret sauce, the thing that Paul Manafort was best at as a political consultant, the biggest strength he brought to all of his work in all the different countries where he did it. Polling.
As Kilimnik said, he, quote, takes very seriously his polling. Well, in that oops, we forgot to really redact it court filing yesterday, we learn that prosecutors from the special counsel`s office are alleging that Manafort sent his beloved polling data, the core of what he does, he sent that data to Konstantin Kilimnik, who, again, is linked to Russian intelligence, and he sent him that data during Trump`s presidential campaign.
Late last night, "The New York Times" added more details to the story, including detail on the timing of the data transfer and its nature. According to "The Times," Manafort transferred this data from the Trump campaign to Kilimnik in the spring of 2016. "The Times" further reports that it was both Manafort and Rick Gates who were involved in transferring that data. And "The Times" says that the transfer involved not just public polling data, but also private polling data that was internal to the campaign, which of course is among the most highly prized data any campaign has.
Why would you give data like that to someone in another country in the middle of the campaign? Why would you give data like that to a guy who is linked to Russian intelligence?
As Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told ABC News today, quote: The question is why? Why would Russians be interested in polling data on an American campaign? Why would that be of value? How would the Russians make use of that? And, of course, why did Manafort lie about it?
Last night, "The New York Times" reported that the Russian intelligence guy Kilimnik, he passed on that polling data that he got from Manafort. "The Times" initially reported that he sent it to Oleg Deripaska, the guy whose sanctions will be the subject of the big showdown with the Treasury Department tomorrow in Congress when Steven Mnuchin has to come to Capitol Hill.
Interestingly, though, "The Times" later corrected its story to say Kilimnik didn`t give that polling data to Deripaska. That was a mistake in "The Times`" initial reporting. They corrected their story to say he had actually passed it on instead to two Ukrainian oligarchs who are also known to have funded Manafort`s pro Russia political work in Ukraine.
Well, what did those guys want with internal polling data from an American presidential campaign? I mean, I should mention that one of those two oligarchs who reportedly received that polling data from Manafort, he appears to be the same guy who was described in the indictment of Sam Patten. Sam Patten pled guilty a few months ago to working as an unregistered foreign agent. He admitted in his plea deal, in his cooperation deal, that he had illegally funneled foreign money into Trump`s inauguration. It was money apparently from this oligarch guy to whom Manafort sent internal campaign polling data in the spring of 2016.
So, it`s a small world, right? These guys all seem to be interconnected. But basic question, why would anybody in Russia want internal polling data from one of the campaigns in a U.S. presidential election? Why would a campaign chairman running one of those campaigns send it to them? What did he think they would do with it? Why did he think that data would be of value to them? I mean, why was any of this happening?
On a basic level, why did a presidential candidate hire a campaign chairman whose most recent decades of work were all working for pro-Putin Russian oligarchs and political figures in the former Soviet Union? A guy whose right-hand man in all of that work was widely assessed to be linked to Russian intelligence? Out of all the Republican political operatives in the world, why do you pick that guy? Why during the campaign was that campaign chairman offering private briefings to one pro-Putin Russian oligarch right after he allegedly sent internal campaign polling data to two others?
Bloomberg News further reports today that yet another one of these oligarchs may have set up a front company to send Paul Manafort money after he got indicted. Why was Paul Manafort running a presidential campaign in the first place given who Paul Manafort had become? And if these new allegations that we have just learned about, about Paul Manafort, these new ones we`ve just found out about through this poorly redacted document, if these new allegations are true, that means this same Trump campaign chairman was sending this internal data from the campaign to Russian intelligence and to Russian government-linked sources at the same time that Russian military intelligence was running a massive effort to target U.S. voters to swing the election toward Donald Trump.
U.S. polling data from inside the campaign of one of the two major party candidates for president could certainly have been helpful in targeting exactly those efforts, right? And as I said, I`m agnostic as to what`s going on with Robert Mueller. I have no idea whether or not the Mueller investigation is entering its ninth inning or if it`s just rounding the ninth hole on an 18-hole golf course, or some other numerological sports metaphor that makes it sound like any of us have specific information about what he`s doing and what he`s going to do when we really do not.
A court filing this week really did show Mueller believes the Trump campaign was sending valuable internal campaign data to Russia for some reason while Russia was interfering in the election. Are we likely to get definitive word from prosecutors as to what they were doing that for and what Russia did with the data? And are we likely to find out either through the Mueller investigation or through Congress where Democrats now hold the reins, are we likely to find out if that information transfer was a one-way street? Was it just the Trump campaign giving internal documents about the campaign to Russia? Or did the information transfer go both ways? Did Russia help out the Trump campaign secretly behind the scenes too?
The new chair of the House Intelligence Committee will join us live here next.
MADDOW: I`m very pleased to say that joining us tonight for the first time since he has been named chairman of the Intelligence Committee is Adam Schiff, Democratic congressman of California.
Mr. Chairman, congratulations, and thank you very much for being with us tonight.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you. It`s good to be with you.
MADDOW: So I have a lot to ask you about. So I`ll warn you right now.
First of all, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is going to be in the House tomorrow, answering questions about why he has signed off on relaxing Russia`s sanctions against companies owned by Oleg Deripaska. He is, of course, a sanctioned oligarch and one to whom the Trump campaign chair reportedly offered private briefings during the middle of the presidential campaign. I know you are one of the committee chairs in the House who requested this briefing from Secretary Mnuchin.
What are you expecting from that tomorrow?
SCHIFF: Well, I`d like to know why. Why is this effort being made to accommodate Oleg Deripaska, this oligarch close to Putin. The deal itself still gives Deripaska enormous control over these companies. I think a 45 percent or 43 percent share in this aluminum company. It`s a pretty sweet deal for Deripaska and for these companies.
Why are we bending over backwards to accommodate them only about nine months after the imposition of these sanctions. Something just doesn`t smell right about this transaction. I`d also like to know whether the Treasury Department and the people that enforce these sanctions were of one mind about this, or whether there was internal dissent or opposition to this decision, because it just doesn`t quite add up to me.
MADDOW: In terms of that type of process that you`re describing there, if there was dissent in the Treasury Department, are you as chairman of the intelligence committee, are you and your colleagues allowed access to those internal negotiations, that internal process and the records thereof from the Treasury Department as part of your oversight responsibilities?
SCHIFF: Well, we`re certainly going to try to find out tomorrow whether there was uniform opinion about this or whether the treasury officials that in fact pushed for these sanctions to be imposed not just on Deripaska, but on his companies somehow changed their minds or whether they continue to think that those sanctions are warranted. Deripaska is of course not the only Russian oligarch whose been sanctioned. There are a great many others, and a great many of them are likewise in charge of very large companies and have very large holdings.
Why are we treating this particular oligarch differently? I just don`t understand the rationale.
MADDOW: I also want to ask you, sir, about the reports concerning Paul Manafort and these allegations from the special counsel`s office which we learned about through a strange process yesterday, these sort of miffed or muffed reactions that Manafort`s lawyers tried to impose on a court filing but screwed it up. But given their mistake, we have learned that the special counsel`s believes that Manafort was sending internal polling data overseas to a Russian intelligence source and to a pair of oligarchs during the campaign.
Am I right that your committee was unaware of that until we all learned it yesterday because of that screwed up court filing?
SCHIFF: Yes, you`re absolutely right. We had wanted to bring Manafort in earlier, and at the time he became a person of interest to the Mueller investigation, and that opportunity was foreclosed. We had hoped thereafter to get access to him once he was cooperating, but obviously his cooperation is far less than complete or candid.
But we`re also interested in bringing Mr. Gates before the committee, and it`s certainly clear from these pleadings that he has relevance -- or these reports, that he has relevant information as well. What I find so striking about all of this, and you`re asking the right questions, why would the Russians want this data, what use would they make of it, but you look at this in the context of what is going on at the time, the Russians are embarked on this massive media campaign to tilt the election in Trump`s favor. You`ve got Manafort trying to get money or get debt relief from these oligarchs like Deripaska that he has owed money or owes money to, offering data on the campaign.
You`ve got at the same time this lawyer that we learned more about, Veselnitskaya, who was indicted this week setting up this meeting in Trump Tower, having this close relationship with the Russian government, offering dirt, the president`s son saying they would love to get that dirt, and the president seeking this deal in Trump Tower and seeking Kremlin help to put it together while lying about it to the American people.
All of that is going on in a matter of the same months. It is a situation rife with conflict, a hornet`s nest of compromise, and it`s no wonder that the special counsel is concerned about this, as we are.
MADDOW: Congressman, Mr. Chairman, those -- that list of things that you just described, now that you are chairman of the Intelligence Committee, there are a number of questions that I have about how the division of labor works and how you understand the division of labor between yourself and your committee and Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s office and the Justice Department more broadly. If you can stick around with us for just one more segment, I`d love to talk with you in a little bit more detail.
Can you stay with us?
SCHIFF: Certainly, of course.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the intelligence committee, stays with us. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: We`re back now with Congressman Adam Schiff, who is now officially in charge of the intelligence committee in the White House.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for sticking with us. Much appreciated.
SCHIFF: You bet.
MADDOW: Now that you have taken the chairmanship, do you have any clearer view on what the special counsel is and isn`t looking at? Just specifically so your work in Congress doesn`t conflict with that investigation? I wanted to ask you about in particular, because I know you told "The L.A. Times" recently that you believe Mueller may not be looking into the question of money laundering as it pertains to this scandal, so your committee may have to do that part of it.
Can you talk about that a little bit?
SCHIFF: Sure. And we only have limited visibility into what the special counsel is doing. We are going to make a much greater effort to deconflict than was possible before we were running the committee.
But the president, as you know, has tried to draw a red line around his finances and prevent the Justice Department and the special counsel from examining them. And we saw the perils of that when we learned more about this Trump Tower Moscow deal. When we were misled, when Michael Cohen didn`t testify truthfully before us about how long that attempted business transaction went on.
That was something that could compromise the president. They were on the other side of that transaction. They could have exposed the fact that the president sought the help of the Kremlin even while he was denying it during the presidential campaign to make that deal go through.
The same is true if the Russians were laundering money through the Trump organization. They could expose that at any time. The president, if they were engaged in that conduct, would know the Russians possessed that kind of compromise, and we simply don`t know whether this is something Mueller has been allowed to investigate by the deputy attorney general.
So, I think that our responsibility in the Congress is twofold. We need to make sure there is no compromise over the president of the United States, but we also need to make sure that at the end of the day, the public gets a full accounting of just what took place. And here`s an important responsibility also because the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, may not allow the Congress to see the full Mueller report. And if he is replaced by Bill Barr, who believes that the president can`t commit obstruction of justice, he may not let the Congress see evidence of obstruction of justice. And we nonetheless need to know whether our president has been acting unlawfully, and we need to be able to tell the country exactly what took place.
MADDOW: Are you concerned about these reports today that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is planning to leave?
SCHIFF: I`m very concerned about it because if he does leave, either when the new attorney general comes on board or at the time that the report is finished, if Bill Barr is confirmed, that may mean that the new attorney general, who has a very hostile view of this investigation, indeed, that`s why he was nominated in the first place after that job application essentially where he outlined how flawed the Mueller investigation was, he may take a dim view of sharing information with Congress and the American people.
I think rod Rosenstein would fight to make that happen. He has vigorously protected the independence of the investigation, so I do have great concerns about his leaving and what will be left in his wake.
MADDOW: And just briefly, sir, do you have any insight into how close Mueller is to finishing? Some very provocative reporting from NBC News` Pete Williams on that day bolstered by some reporting in "The Washington Post" from Carol Leonnig. Both of those stories suggesting tonight there is at least a widespread belief by people close to the investigation that, A, is ending, and B, there will be a report from Mueller.
Do you share that impression or do you have any information you can share with us about that?
SCHIFF: I think it`s very hard to say. And even if people had a good source for that speculation or more than speculation, it may not prove to be accurate. All we really do know is that the grand jury was extended for another six months. I don`t think that would be done if there wasn`t at least some potential of future indictments.
Of course, those indictments and the criminal cases that they would represent would take time to prosecute. But more than that, we saw a ruling in the Supreme Court.
How long will it take for Bob Mueller to get the documents now that were called for in that litigation? Will the special counsel persevere in trying to depose the president about obstruction of justice or has now been foreclosed by Whitaker and Barr if he is confirmed. Those questions are still open questions, and a lot of those answers will determine just how long this investigation may run.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Thank you for this time with us tonight, sir. I know that you`ve always been busy, but you`re getting busier now. Thanks for being here.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: There has been lots of breaking and developing news tonight, including while we`ve been on the air. I opened the show with breaking news from "The Washington Post" that the White House has just added 17 new lawyers in the past couple of weeks to help the president respond to his various scandals and the anticipated legal wrangling around them.
Now there is more breaking news, also from "The Washington Post." This is just posted.
Quote: GOP senators promise A.G. nominee William Barr will not touch Mueller`s probe.
Will not touch Mueller`s probe. That`s awkward phrasing, but you know what they mean.
Quote: Top Senate Republicans emerged from meetings with William P. Barr, insisting that if confirmed, he would not hinder Robert Mueller`s investigation of the Trump campaign`s Russia ties, despite previous statements blasting the probe for looking into whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice.
Also in this new piece, "The Post" is reporting that two different Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are saying that Barr is refusing to meet with them due to the ongoing government shutdown.
So, Republican senators are making promises based on their meetings with William Barr, saying that he won`t mess with the Mueller investigation, but if Democrats want to check that themselves, the Democrats are not being allowed to meet with Barr themselves because of the shutdown. This news has just crossed in the past few minutes.
Joining us now is Devlin Barrett, national security reporter for "The Washington Post" who broke this story.
Mr. Barrett, it`s nice to have you with us tonight. Thank you for being here.
DEVLIN BARRETT, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So that strikes me. I highlighted that dichotomy in your piece because it strikes me as odd that Republican senators would be asking meetings, seemingly substantive meetings with this A.G. nominee, so much so that they`re able to give assurances about stuff he`ll work on and stuff he won`t, but Democratic senators are not being allowed to meet with him?
BARRETT: Right. So the Democratic senators say that they are being told that the nominee simply doesn`t have time to meet with them because of the shutdown. And frankly, the Justice Department is saying, well, we`re happy to meet with them as soon as we can work it into the schedule.
So there is a little bit of contradictory information going on, but I think what it all points to, really, is the jockeying and posturing ahead of the Barr confirmation hearing next week, which I think is going to be fairly intense and it`s going to be fairly pointed in terms of tries to get Barr to publicly commit, not privately, but publicly commit to certain conditions regarding the Mueller investigation.
MADDOW: And to that exact point, are these assurances from Republican senators after they`ve been taking these meetings with Barr, are they assuring that Barr will give a formal assurance that he will not be involved in the Mueller investigation, that he will, in fact, recuse or give some other sort of assurance that may be seen as binding in his confirmation hearings, or are they just saying the this is not something he`s going to handle formally but you shouldn`t worry about it, we promise he`ll be good?
BARRETT: Even by the version of Lindsey Graham, the incoming Republican chairman of the committee says, Barr is not promising not to touch the Mueller investigation. He`s promising not to stop the Mueller investigation. That`s a pretty key distinction. And I think a lot depends on how you view the word promise.
You know, what`s been described to me is that Barr has no intention of giving the committee any iron clad promises about what he will or won`t do until he`s been read in to the investigation. But also that he is fairly comfortable telling the committee and the Congress that he will do the right thing and that he is not interested in just coming in and shutting down the Mueller investigation without having a very clear reason for doing so.
MADDOW: Devlin, I have to ask you about one other element of this. There is reporting today from "The Washington Post," NBC News and other sources that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein may be planning to leave, he may be pegging his leaving both potentially to the end of the Mueller investigation but also to the arrival of William Barr.
Do we have any further clarification tonight as that reporting has developed in terms of Rosenstein`s plans?
BARRETT: Well, look, I think what`s been described to us certainly is that Rosenstein has the intention of creating a smooth transition once Barr is confirmed, assuming he`s confirmed as the attorney general. Sort of the unknown factor in all this, though, is no one is really quite certain when a final Mueller report is going to surface, and if that were to surface around this time, I think, frankly, that could change Rosenstein`s calculation. And, frankly, it could change Barr`s calculation, because, frankly, one of the things we know is that Barr wants his own people there and that would include the deputy attorney general job.
So, it`s not that surprising to think that Rosenstein would leave soon, but there`s two things happening possibly around the same time and I think those two things may change the calculus for Rod Rosenstein as this goes forward.
MADDOW: A live and still developing issue in other words. It`s fascinating stuff. Very consequential.
Devlin Barrett, "Washington Post" national security reporter, thanks for being with us tonight. It`s great to have you here.
BARRETT: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: With the government shutdown rounding out its 19th day today, Democrats are introducing four more bills to try to start opening up the government piece by piece. And this is separate and apart from any fight that the president may want over building a wall on the southern border.
Today, the Democratic controlled House passed a bill to open up the Treasury Department and the IRS. Every Democrat who voted on this today voted yes. So did eight Republicans who crossed the aisle. That`s one more Republican defection than the last time the House voted on Democratic legislation to re-open the government.
Tomorrow, the Democratic House will vote on more bills to open more agencies. Tomorrow will be the Interior Department and Agriculture Department. Then on Friday, they`ll have another vote to re-open Housing and Urban Developments.
They`ve already passed bills to re-open the whole government. Now they`re trying it agency by agency. These bills are all expected to pass the House but they`re not likely to go anywhere else. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell still says he will not take up any legislation to re-open the government in the Senate if he thinks the president won`t sign that legislation.
On Saturday, unless anything in this dynamic changes, this will become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. There`s no reason to think that this is going to stop any time soon, not the way this is proceeding. This could be awhile.
MADDOW: Quick personal privilege. I want to mention one quick thing before I sign off tonight. And it is a thank you to everybody who has listened to "Bag Man," that little podcast that we made about Nixon`s Vice President Spiro Agnew and how he got caught for being a crook and how the Justice Department forced him to resign as vice president because of that.
I`m saying thank you today because today we officially hit 10 million downloads for the podcast. That we made about Nixon`s Vice President Spiro Agnew and how he got caught for being a crook and how the Justice Department forced him to resign as vice president because of that. I`m saying thank you today because today we officially hit 10 million downloads for the podcast. What? Which I could not have seen coming from a million miles away.
So thank you. I am totally bewildered by the number being that big. Thank you.
"Bag Man" is still up. You can still listen to it for free at MSNBC.com/bagman, but I just wanted to say thanks to everybody who listened to it already.
All right. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END