RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
The federal government is still shut down. The president is still the president. But today, for sure, something was different in American governance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This stiff competition, mind you, is one of the worst classified briefings we`ve received from the Trump administration. The secretary barely testified, answered some questions but he didn`t give testimony. They had an intelligence briefing, which I won`t go into and then they read a document which was unclassified, wasting the time of the members of Congress. And I went in sympathetic to the process that has been established for sanctions and the relief of sanctions. I came out just -- unimpressed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: One of the worst classified briefings we have ever received from the Trump administration and, quote, this is with stiff competition, mind you.
Democrats now control half of Congress. They control the House of Representatives. That was how Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacted today after the Trump administration`s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was summoned by the House to come up to Capitol Hill and explain why exactly the Trump administration announced right before Christmas and signed off on the decision to relax sanctions on businesses associated with this Russian oligarch known to be close to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.
Oleg Deripaska was sanctioned by the U.S. over the Russian government`s attack on our presidential election in 2016. Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary in late December signed off on a relaxation of the sanctions, under law, under a beefed-up law that was passed number unanimously by the House and Senate and 2017. Under that new U.S. sanctions law, Congress has 30 days to review an announcement like this, to review any announcement from the administration that they`re relaxing sanctions.
In that 30-day period, Congress can investigate that decision and they can overturn it if they think it is improper. And that is what led to this appearance today on Capitol Hill by the Trump treasury secretary. And as you could quickly tell from the reaction from members of Congress coming out of that classified briefing, Secretary Mnuchin`s explanation about why he wants to drop those sanctions on that Russian oligarch, it did not go well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D), ILLINOIS: I`m very dissatisfied by the briefing. It was kind of a waste of time because we didn`t get some of the answers that we needed and so, hopefully, there will be an extension of time before this actually goes into effect. I`m very disturbed by what I learned.
REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I asked the question why the Treasury is taking an action that increases the net worth of an individual that we sought to punish and sanction, and Mr. Mnuchin had no response.
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), TEXAS: We need to learn much more than we did this afternoon.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: We didn`t get sufficient answers.
REPORTER: Was Secretary Mnuchin defensive about this at all or argumentative or was it pretty --
SHERMAN: He did not want to address why he had taken action that was clearly in the financial interest of Mr. Deripaska.
REPORTER: He didn`t give any details?
SHERMAN: He told me that we should trust the administration.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I`m afraid this is the tip of the iceberg of the undoing of the sanctions regime.
DOGGETT: We are saying to the Trump administration and to the Russians, we are looking carefully at every transaction you`re involved with. We will exercise our oversight. The end of overlook has ended and the beginning of oversight, you see right here this afternoon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett there announcing the end of overlook and the beginning of overnight.
Secretary Mnuchin himself appeared a little bit flustered, maybe even flummoxed for having to have to answer questions from the Democratic-led Congress. He complained to reporters after his testimony that he had been there for a full hour and a half, and he was therefore very surprised that he was receiving any criticism. That said, he did announce that he would consider extending the time that Congress has to potentially reject this decision that he has made about these sanctions.
If they do that, of course, that would result in the U.S. government keeping these sanctions in place, right? If they choose to reject this decision by Mnuchin and the Trump administration. And it`s, of course, the Democratic-led House, the Nancy Pelosi-led House who summoned Mnuchin today to give his best explanation on these sanctions.
But it wasn`t just a Democratic thing, this briefing they opened to every single member of the House, all Democrats and all Republicans, and I know I am swimming upstream a little bit when I say this, and I know you don`t believe me, I can feel it through the TV, but I still think it is worth pointing out that this is a subject on which there may not be the same knee-jerk instinctive partisan divide we`ve seen on so many other issues in the Trump era. Russian sanctions specifically are something that Republicans have been willing to defy the Trump administration about in the recent past. That`s how we got this new beefed up sanctions law in the first place, that gives the Congress to reject a move like this within 30 days.
That bill passed so overwhelmingly, it has two votes against it in the Senate and three votes against it in the House. It was otherwise unanimous. Trump couldn`t have gotten near vetoing that, even if he wanted to.
So, again, it was an all-members briefing today by Secretary Mnuchin, at least the Democrats coming out of that briefing said that wasn`t a good explanation for relaxing those sanctions. We`re going to need to hear more than that. Over on the Senate side, we know that both Republican and Democratic staffers on the Banking Committee are also reviewing this relaxation of sanctions by the Trump administration.
So, I mean, I get it that everybody expects the Republicans will do everything Trump wants. Everybody expects that the Republicans will even let Trump lift sanctions on this Russian oligarch just because Trump gets to do what he wants, even on anything related to Russia, but I`m telling you on Russian sanctions, that has not been the history.
And so, therefore, I think it is worth keeping an open mind that the Republicans might surprise us all. We shall see. And this is turning out to be sort of a fascinating initial test of where some of the boundaries might be for the Trump administration, now that they`ve got this new Congress in place.
I mean, Oleg Deripaska would be a really interesting test case for that. He is barred from entering the United States. He`s sanctioned by the U.S. government. He`s the guy to whom the president`s campaign chairman offered private briefings during the presidential campaign for some reason before that campaign chairman got convicted of multiple felonies.
So, again, this is a live issue, but if Oleg Deripaska`s going to be the test case, that`s going to be a very interesting test case. We shall see. It will be a landmark moment if one of the first acts of this Congress is to rescind the multiple-billion dollar Christmas present the Trump administration is trying to give this Russian oligarch right after the midterm elections.
And, you know, it does sort of feel -- I mean, watching all that kinetic activity in Congress right now, watching that fight brewing and having some real drama as to where that fight is going, to does sort of feel that there are parallel tracks right now in Washington and in our government, right? On one track, we`ve got one of the longest government shutdowns in U.S. history, grinding on with no end in sight, government workers now getting their new pay stubs, reflecting the fact that their paychecks for this pay period are for zero dollars. We`re going to talk later on this hour about some of the other consequences of the ongoing shutdown, including those that appear to directly undercut the president`s reason for causing the shutdown in the first place.
But while that happens on one track, while the shutdown grinds on, at the same time, on the other track, there is a lot that is in motion. There is a lot that seems to be really in flux right now when it comes to she`s scandals and investigations surrounding this presidency. Those, it turns out, have not shut down.
This afternoon, the president`s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen announced that the he will testify in open session in Congress before the oversight committee and its new chairman, Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings. That testimony by Michael Cohen will take place on February 7th, and, yes, it is going to be the hottest ticket in a congressional hearing room in quite some time.
That said, Mr. Cohen is known to have lied to Congress before. He has admitted that. He pled guilty in November in federal court to lying to the Intelligence Committees in Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project. Now, though, Mr. Cohen says we should believe him. Now he says he is comingle all he knows and he says he`s happy to do so, including in open session before the Oversight Committee and there are, of course, now multiple committees that would love to question him now, including the intelligence committees in the House and the Senate, despite the fact that they`re the committees he pled guilty to lying to not that long ago.
Now, in terms of whether other committees are also going to get him in their witness chair, it`s not clear yet. Part of it may just be timing. As I said, Michael Cohen is scheduled to testify before the oversight committee February 7th. Less than a month later, on March 6th, he is due to be in prison, starting his three-year federal prison term.
Now, I can`t imagine that the committees are going to want to bring Cohen to Congress for more testimony once he has started his prison sentence. I can`t imagine they`re going to want to go to federal prison and extract him from prison to bring him to Congress to testify, but, honestly, I don`t know, maybe. Maybe they are planning on doing that.
Senator Mark Warner who is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee in the Senate, he`s going to be here live in just a moment. That`s one of the things we can ask him.
But we also learned late last night that in the Trump White House, the White House counsel`s office is staffing up massively and quickly, in terms of the number of lawyers they`ve got on-hand. That itself is a little bit of a weird situation. You`ll recall that the last White House counsel, Don McGahn, we learned quite late into his tenure in the Trump White House that he had testified for dozens of hours to the special counsel`s office, apparently unbeknownst to the president and to other senior White House officials.
What`s that night like in the White House when you -- somebody finally tells you that your White House counsel has been speaking to the special counsel`s office for dozens of hours and you had no idea?
Don McGahn did that. He`s now gone as White House counsel. I would be interested to know if he is still cooperating with the special counsel`s office, even now that he has left the Trump White House. We don`t know about that one way or the other.
But there is a new White House counsel in place, Pat Cipollone, he has taken over the office and he has reportedly hired 17 new lawyers for that office just in the last couple of weeks, all to help handle the legal demands of the president`s various scandals and investigations.
According to "Washington Post" reporting late last night from Carol Leonnig, what is driving Cipollone`s hiring strategy and the White House`s plans to use those new lawyers is that they are expecting a battle royale, both with the Democratic-controlled Congress and with Mueller`s office over the issue of executive privilege.
And executive privilege is a buzz word, it gets misused a lot. It`s sort of a complicated thing. You can speak as much legalese want to once you are fighting over executive privilege. But basically for us regular folks, for understanding that being the big fight they`re expecting, it basically boils down to whether or not the president and the White House have to hand stuff over. Whether a president potentially has to testify to either a special counsel like Robert Mueller or to other prosecutors and other criminal inquiries or to Congress.
Do you have to hand over material? Do you have to respond to subpoenas? Do you potentially have to testify?
And we tend to think of the relevant history around that question as being all tied up in Watergate, right? Richard Nixon`s efforts to resist the courts when they were demanding that he hand over the White House tapes. And it`s true, Watergate is an important precedent here, but some of the other more recent precedent on this issue is not just more recent than Watergate. For a bunch of reasons right now, it hits closer to home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Are you worried about what the hearings may reveal, sir?
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESDIENT: I`m waiting to hear as much as anyone else. I have told you over and over again everything that I know about all that took place, and I`m waiting to find out.
REPORTER: Senator says you ought to check your memory or your statement you knew nothing of illegal fund-raising within your administration, sir.
REAGAN: There is no illegal fund-raising as far as I know at this point.
REPORTER: Did you know what Colonel North was doing? Did you know that he was coordinating this?
REPORTER: What about the third country, sir? Why were they contributing money?
REAGAN: You will find that within the law, the law specified that the secretary of state was to encourage our fellow democracies to give aid to the freedom fight.
REPORTER: Including for military aid, sir?
REAGAN: However they wanted to do it.
REPORTER: Are you willing to testify, if asked?
REPORTER: Are you willing to testify before the Select Committee if asked?
REAGAN: You`ll have to wait and find out.
REPORTER: How do you feel as the hearings are beginning, sir? What is your expectation?
REAGAN: I`m hopeful that I`m finally going to hear some of the things that I`m still waiting to learn.
REPORTER: But don`t you know what you did? Do you have to have someone else tell you what you did? Don`t you know what you did?
REAGAN: I know what I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Ronald Reagan having a hard time there parrying questions from reporters about the Iran-Contra scandal. How are you feeling as the hearings are beginning, sir. I`m hopeful I`m going to learn about some of the things and I`m still waiting to learn about. Are you willing to testify, if asked? I have to wait and find out.
That was May 5th, 1987. President Reagan there clearly not at his best in that exchange with reporters, but that was a very stressful time. Not long before that encounter with reporters at the White House, he had had to give that Oval Office address to the nation on Iran-Contra, in which he said this indelible, unforgettable, just gut-wrenching thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: Let`s start with the part that is the most controversial. A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that`s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Iran-Contra scandal was a really big scandal, and when the president has to explain things that way to the American people, my best intentions still tell me that that lie I told you is true, but the facts tell me that lie I told you is a lie, my heart was in the -- my intentions, but I didn`t, I -- it was a big scandal. It was a big problem in the Reagan administration.
The president`s own either confusion or evasions or lies on the subject were a real crisis for him toward the end of his presidency. Substantively, though, it wasn`t just a crisis, it was a fight. Lawyers working on his behalf waged a big fight over executive privilege, whether he had to hand over evidence in Iran-Contra, whether he might have to testify. I think that`s why you got that sort of odd pause and the almost half smile from Reagan when he was asked by reporters in that combative exchange outside the Oval Office if he was going to testify. You can almost see the gears working as he`s trying to figure out what he`ll say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Are you willing to testify, if asked? Are you willing to testify before the select committee, if asked?
REAGAN: You`ll have to wait and find out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The president ultimately had to wait to find out how much of a leg he might have to stand on legally when he was trying not to testify, and trying not to hand over evidence. And his lawyers did wage that fight on his behalf, but ultimately in the end, it did not go great for him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Federal judge ruled today that former President Ronald Reagan must give evidence and testimony in the Iran-Contra trial of John Poindexter, his former national security adviser.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Federal Judge Harold Green ordered former President Reagan to turn over immediately 33 entries from his personal diaries and to provide videotaped testimony in the Poindexter trial. Later today, Reagan`s attorneys filed a motion in federal court in Washington invoking executive privilege, in essence refusing to turn over the material under the constitutional guarantees for presidential privacy.
Reagan`s decision today is not the first time a president has invoked executive privilege in a criminal investigation. Richard Nixon did it in 1974, but lost when the Supreme Court ordered him to turn over the Nixon tapes to the Watergate special prosecutor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So the judge ordered Ronald Reagan to hand over presidential diaries and to submit videotaped evidence in that Iran-Contra trial, and Reagan`s lawyers fought it and said no, no, no, executive privilege applies here.
But within two weeks of that ruling, there was Reagan doing actually exactly what the judge asked, handing over evidence, giving videotaped testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reagan left his suburban Los Angeles home this morning to face the courtroom examination. There was heavy security at the courthouse, to which the judge and lawyers in the John Poindexter case had come from Washington. Reagan was permitted to give video testimony. Reagan waived as he entered the courtroom where technicians from the Justice Department and FBI had installed cameras and videotape machines.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Reagan`s lawyers fought that executive privilege fight. They tried to put up that fight, but they lost. I mean, famously, Richard Nixon before him fought to keep the White House tapes and other evidence from the public and from scrutiny by the judiciary and famously, Nixon lost that fight, too. He lost that fight hugely at the Supreme Court. That, of course, led to a bad end in the Watergate scandal for President Richard Nixon.
It went the same way with Reagan. Reagan briefly tried that same fight back in Iran-Contra, but he lost that, too, and we definitely don`t remember Iran-Contra in this country as vividly as we remember Watergate. But just as Watergate had a bad end, Iran-Contra had a bad end, too, a bad end of a very different sort.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good evening. It began more than seven years ago, a deal by the Reagan administration to free hostages in Lebanon, sell arms to Iran and divert profits to the Nicaraguan Contras. Today, it ended. President Bush pardoned Casper Weinberger accused of lying to Congress and five others in the scandal. Bush called it an act of healing. The Iran- Contra prosecutor called it the completion of a cover-up.
NBC`s law correspondent Carl Stern reports from Washington.
CARL STERN, NBC LAW CORRESPONDENT: By barring a Weinberger trial and pardoning others who he said had acted out of patriotic motives, Bush tried to put the Iran-Contra prosecutors out of business. It happened just when he has become personally embroiled.
In Oklahoma City, independent counsel Lawrence Walsh revealed Bush has failed to turn over some of his own notes and faces a possible subpoena.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In light of President Bush`s own misconduct, we are gravely concerned by his decision to pardon others.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The way the Iran-Contra scandal was forcibly ended was on Christmas Eve, 1992, after George H.W. Bush had just been voted out of office and made a one-term president, George H.W. Bush on his way out of office on Christmas Eve pardoned everybody who was still in trouble in the Iran-Contra scandal, just at the time when his own involvement was startling to potentially drag him into the courtroom as well.
Today, as Democrats take over the House and the Mueller investigation circles this president and the White House gears up, hiring 17 new lawyers in just a couple of weeks, the executive privilege fight that they say they are gearing up for, that they are expecting, that is not a good sign for the president`s defense. Previous major presidential scandals show that the White House usually loses those types of fights. When there are very high stakes and when they`re using executive privilege to fend off scrutiny for matters of intense national concern.
And that`s not legal analysis by me, I am not a lawyer. That is just my observation of how presidential scandals tend to settle out and what fights presidents tend to lose in the middle of those scandals. But, you know, after Reagan lost the executive privilege fights that he waged in Iran- Contra, the bad ending of that scandal thereafter also brings us right to the door of the Trump White House today.
Because on Tuesday, Tuesday next week, there will be confirmation hearings for Trump`s new choice to be attorney general of the United States, and, of course, attorney general is a hugely consequential job in and of itself. The nomination and potential confirmation of William Barr to that job, it`s doubly dramatic right now because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has been overseeing the Mueller investigation, he says he will resign and leave the Justice Department if and when William Barr is confirmed. That`s an important transition ahead for the Justice Department.
William Barr is also yet another Trump would-be appointee who has an extensive and aggressive record of criticizing the Mueller investigation, and you can expect that to be a big focus of his confirmation hearings next week, but William Barr is also something very, very specific in the history of presidents and presidential scandals and the bad ways that they can end. Because on Christmas Eve 1992, when George H.W. Bush shocked the country by pardoning everyone still in trouble in Iran-Contra and effectively ending the prosecution of that scandal while he himself was edging into its crosshairs, he took that action specifically on the advice of William Barr, who was in the George H.W. Bush administration at the time, the same William Barr who is now Trump`s nominee to be attorney general.
Here is "The New York Times"` write-up on those pardons from the Christmas Day edition of that paper in 1992, quote, throughout the deliberations Mr. Bush consulted with Attorney General William P. Barr. William himself has bragged about his role in bringing about those pardons in Iran-Contra. He was asked about the pardons.
In a 2001 oral history of the University of Virginia, William Barr said, quote, I certainly did not oppose any of them. I favored the broadest. There were some people arguing just for a pardon for Weinberger and I said, no, in for a penny, in for a pound.
Question, all the ones you recommended he did pardon? William Barr, I believe so.
With everything else going on in the U.S. government right now, right, with the -- I mean, with just -- with the government shutdown, with the Trump administration quietly trying to lift sanctions on a Russian oligarch linked to the Trump campaign, with the expected testimony of Michael Cohen in open session, with the new revelation this week that the president`s campaign chair was providing internal campaign data to a Russian intelligence asset during the campaign -- I mean, is it really possible that in this environment right now that the Senate is about to confirm someone whose most notable previous achievement in public office is that he was the architect of the last time a major criminal presidential scandal was shut down with blanket pardons for everyone -- in for a penny, in for a pound, I wanted everyone pardoned?
That is who President Trump has nominated it to be attorney general, who is now taking meetings with senators. His confirmation hearings begin on Tuesday.
Senator Mark Warner from the Intelligence Committee joins us next.
MADDOW: I`m very pleased to say that joining us now is Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. He is the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the Senate.
Senator Warner, it`s great to have you here tonight. Thanks for making time to be with us.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So there was a briefing today for all members of the House in which the secretary of the treasury, Steven Mnuchin, came up and talked about his decision, the Trump administration`s decision to lift sanctions on a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, who has a lot of links to Trump`s campaign chair, Paul Manafort. Manafort reportedly offered him private briefings during the campaign, for some reason.
In the response to that briefing today, it seems like at least Democrats in the House want the relief of sanctions delayed. They want this decision by the administration to at least be held off for awhile so they can examine it.
Can you tell us if you think the Senate may also have some of those concerns?
WARNER: Well, I hope the Senate will take the same approach. The plan that was put out by the administration was to take this Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, who controls about 70 percent of a major aluminum company Rusal, and in effect try to reduce his ownership down to around 40 percent.
But it doesn`t in any way get rid of the fact that Deripaska started this company, he placed all of the management in place, he has indirect control still of the company, and the fact as the largest single shareholder even after the fact, I think he will still have control, and if we want to send a message that Russians who were involved in interfering in our elections, and clearly there is evidence that a number of the oligarchs were part of Putin`s in a sense array of forces he brought against our democracy in 2016, I think we need to keep these sanctions in place and I think we in the Senate will move on that. Frankly, I think when push comes to shove, a number of Republicans share that view, that this is not the time to take sanctions off of Deripaska.
And frankly, again, Rachel, it`s even more so the case if you go back two days ago when it became evidence that Paul Manafort, Trump`s campaign chairman, was sharing proprietary campaign information, in a sense polling information, with this individual, Mr. Kilimnik, who is a known Russian agent, who also Mr. Kilimnik has a number of ties to Oleg Deripaska. So, when we`re seeing Trump officials pass information to Russian agents that have ties to Deripaska, to somehow now take off the sanctions I think would be ill-advised on national security interests, on appropriately sending the message to Russia, and I hope the Congress takes advantage of its ability to kind of stop that effort to take off those sanctions.
MADDOW: Let me just push you on that a little bit because your reasoning there seems pretty air-tight to me, but I wonder if I can pressure you on why you think this happened? Do you think this was just an honest bad call by the Trump administration, that they did some bad math here about how this might have worked out? Or given what you just described about Deripaska and who exactly we and, and some of his connections to the Trump campaign`s relationship with Russia, Russian interference to help the Trump campaign, are you at all concerned this might be a case where they`re doing a favor to a specific Russian oligarch out of an improper or otherwise shady motivation?
WARNER: Well, it clearly doesn`t pass the smell test. Now, there are legitimate concerns about Rusal`s ability to kind of have an enormous effect on the aluminum market overall. There are economic reasons that have some validity. But the idea that now, at this moment in time, as we get potentially closer to Mueller coming forward with his report, that they`ve chosen this moment to try to take off these sanctions, particularly in light of the recent reveal about Manafort`s passing of information to Kilimnik, the known Russian agent, again, who has ties to Deripaska. That, to me, is more than enough reason not for us to give the Trump administration this ability to remove these sanctions.
I think we need to continue to send a strong signal because the Russian activities that were countered against America, they`ve used these same techniques in a variety of other European elections. I met with folks today on this subject. The Russian active measures campaign goes on across the West because it`s been effective, it`s cheap and I don`t think we should be providing any relief to Putin or his band of oligarchs who often times he outsources some of these activities to by removing some of these sanctions.
MADDOW: Senator, last night, Congressman Adam Schiff was here. He`s the newly-elected chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the House. And I asked him about those revelations that you were just describing there, that the president`s campaign chair Paul Manafort apparently shared proprietary internal campaign polling data with this guy Konstantin Kilimnik who prosecutors twice have described as linked to Russian intelligence.
You also point out his links to Oleg Deripaska specifically.
Chairman Schiff told me last night that on the House side, at least, this was news to them. They did not know before this court filing this week that was sort of mistakenly un-redacted that Manafort had been providing that internal campaign data to this Russian -- well, to Mr. Kilimnik. Is it also true in the Senate that you were unaware of that before this week?
WARNER: It is true -- it is true that this is the first time we heard of it and it was, again, fairly remarkable that the only reason we found out was that the Manafort lawyers were sloppy in redacting their filings.
So this information, I`m not sure they wanted to come out. Luckily, Mueller would have it. But this raises a host of questions, why was the campaign chairman of the Trump campaign offering in a sense secret proprietary polling data to a Russian agent? Did the Russian agent then use that in terms of the Russian activities that then manifested themselves later in the campaign over social media, that manifested itself as we`ve seen now in efforts to particularly suppress African-American vote? Did they take some of that knowledge?
We don`t know the answer to that, but the basic fact of this coming to light, this was news to us on the Senate intelligence committee as well.
MADDOW: Senator Warner, you mentioned Manafort having some sort of sloppy lawyering this week with those screwed up redactions. One of the questions swirling around Mr. Manafort is whether or not he might be angling for a presidential pardon as his get out of jail free card. That relates to the confirmation hearings we`re expecting for the new attorney general. I know you have called for the president`s -- the president to withdraw this nominee for attorney general.
If you can stick with us for just one more moment, I`d love to talk to you about William Barr and his confirmation hearings next week.
MADDOW: All right. Senator Mark Warner, top Democrat of the Intelligence Committee, he`ll be back with us in just a moment.
MADDOW: Started the show tonight by talking about how President Trump`s nominee to be the new attorney general, William Barr, was, in fact, the architect of the strategy to mass pardon figures in the Iran-Contra scandal at the very end of the George H.W. Bush administration.
Our guest, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who is the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, last month called for President Trump to withdraw the nomination of Mr. Barr to be attorney general after news emerged that he had written a lengthy legal memo to the president arguing against the Mueller investigation.
Joining us once again, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia.
Senator, I want to ask you about that public statement that you made last month asking for William Barr`s nomination to be withdrawn. I want to ask if your feelings about Mr. Barr have changed at all in the interim time since you said that?
WARNER: Absolutely not. The one thing that has become clear ever since we saw Sessions fired was the top priority for Trump is to find an attorney general that would undermine the Mueller investigation and that also has a legal view that somehow the president is above the law and can`t be subpoenaed or can`t be held around obstruction or other possible transactions that this president may have committed. He -- we showed that -- he showed that in his first choice, where he picked the acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker, who seemed like his only qualification was that he was against the Mueller investigation and he believed the president was above the law.
What seems so, frankly, unseemly to me, because Mr. Barr has got a long history in Washington, and amongst some folks is well-respected, but the fact that he in a sense sent this job application brief into the president, into the Justice Department, in a sense saying, hey, I`m with you in terms of his view that the Mueller investigation should be suspect, doesn`t have appropriate power, that the president`s above the law. In my mind, that in and of itself should have been disqualifying. He should withdraw his name.
And the fact that he has now made certain assurances to other Republican senators, frankly doesn`t pass again the smell test with me. I think the country would be better served if the president put forward someone as attorney general who would respect the Mueller investigation, allow it to finish, allow all the facts to come out. Again, this is a president who almost on a daily basis says there`s no collusion, there`s no connection to Russia. Well, if that`s the case, he should not be afraid of Mueller finishing the job.
MADDOW: As the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, you have a lot of sway with your colleagues on this issue. Do you expect that Senate Democrats will demand that as a condition of his potential confirmation that Mr. Barr must commit to recuse from the investigation because he`s already a stated partisan in terms of the merits of that investigation?
WARNER: Well, in my mind, that would be the bare minimum. I still think it is just inappropriate when you`ve got someone, in a sense, applying for the job by sending a memo that I think contradicts most of established legal thinking around the validity of the special prosecutor, and, frankly, around the validity that a president of the United States has to adhere to the same laws that you and I have to adhere to.
So I think that in itself was disqualifying, but the Republicans still have the majority of the vote in the Senate. My hope would be at least that he would have the willingness to recuse himself.
This Mueller investigation has to finish. My hope, as well, I understand that Rod Rosenstein may be leaving at some point. My hope is he would actually stay until Mueller finishes the job.
We don`t know when that will be, but clearly with the volume of witnesses he`s had, it`s my hope and expectation that Mueller will be able to lay out his cards sooner than later.
MADDOW: Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee -- sir, thank you very much.
WARNER: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I`d love to have you back here sooner than the last time I talked to you. It`s great to have you here, sir.
WARNER: Thank you.
All right. Much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The United States Supreme Court heard arguments this week for the first time in the New Year. They heard two cases on Monday, another two on Tuesday and one more yesterday on Wednesday. They`ve heard arguments about a drug company and foreclosures and Native American hunting rights.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg missed all of them. It was the first time the 85-year-old Supreme Court justice has missed an oral argument in her 25 years on the bench. According to the court, she is continuing to recuperate from surgery last month on her left lung where doctors removed a pair of cancerous nodules.
The court says that Justice Ginsburg has still been working from home, he`s been reading transcripts some oral arguments. But, you know, during her time on the bench, she`s had surgery for colon cancer and chemo and radiation for colon cancer. She had surgery for pancreatic cancer.
Seven years ago, she fell and broke her ribs. Five years ago, she had a stent put in to deal with a blocked artery. Last year, she broke more ribs and was hospitalized.
Through all of those calamities, Ruth Bader Ginsburg never ever, ever, ever missed a day of work in 25 years. She`s never missed oral arguments to the Supreme Court until this week.
Today, Politico.com reported that the White House is reportedly asking conservative activists to prepare just in case for Justice Ginsburg to step down from bench, or worse.
If all of this sounds worrying to you? Well, yes. But I`m here to report tonight that an eminently qualified source told us when we called him to ask him questions about this, he told us that everything looks normal to him.
The reason we called him is because his name is Dr. Raja Flores and he is the chair of thoracic surgery at Mountain Sinai Hospital in New York City. He does surgery all the time like the one Justice Ginsburg just had and is recovering from at home while not going to work. He knows what the recovery from that kind of surgery entails.
And because I honestly have not slept this week since Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not show up to work on Monday, we have asked Dr. Flores to come here from Mount Sinai and he`s here next. You will want to meet him.
MADDOW: Joining us now here in studio, I`m honored to have him here, is Dr. Raja Flores. He is the chair of thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
We asked him to come in tonight because he does surgeries all the time like the one Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had in December and from which she is still recovering. I need to tell you, important note, that Dr. Flores is not Justice Ginsburg`s doctor. But he has worked with her doctor and he has done surgeries like this.
When we called Dr. Flores for his advice on what might be going on with Justice Ginsburg, whether we should worry that she has not been back at work this week, he -- I want to quote him directly. He told us he would come talk to us here on this show tonight because he wanted to, quote, calm down the country.
I am ready to be his first customer for that.
Dr. Flores, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate you coming in.
DR. RAJA FLORES, CHAIR OF THORACIC SURGERY, MOUNT SINAI HOSPITAL: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: So, we`re all worried about Justice Ginsburg because she`s never missed a day of work before. She`s been through a lot of surgery and serious hospitalizations before and we didn`t know to expect this. Is it - - is it something we should be worried about?
FLORES: This is completely routine. There are two components to her situation. There`s the short term and the long term.
In the short term, she underwent a procedure called a lobectomy. A lobectomy is a cancer operation where you remove one of the lobes of the lung. On the right, you have three lobes. On the left, you have two lobes.
She had the lower lobe removed from her left. And that is a routine operation, but it is a big operation.
MADDOW: Is it more serious to have it on the left lung than on the right because of the two lobes versus three lobes?
FLORES: Not necessarily. Not necessarily.
FLORES: And it is a difficult operation to recover from, but she did very well. She was home in four days. And you can`t expect her to be back this soon. She`s only a couple of weeks out of surgery.
I had an appendectomy when I was 42 and I was out of commission for a month. She`s 85 and had half of her lung removed. We have to be patient. She will be back and she will be fine.
Now, it`s important to know in the long term that there are patients who can have this operation who`ve run marathons. Now, I`m not suggesting that she`s going to run a marathon. But the Notorious RBG will be back on that bench.
MADDOW: Are there dangers in the recovery process?
FLORES: There is always the danger of a pneumonia, of a blood clot, but she`s already past that dangerous stage. She`s home. She`s recovering.
MADDOW: They would have kept her in the hospital if she was having any of those acute worries.
FLORES: Absolutely. And if she wasn`t doing well, they would readmit her to the hospital. She is at home. She will be fine.
MADDOW: In terms of the court`s announcement that she is working from home, that she`s reviewing transcripts from oral arguments, that she`s able to essentially keep up all of the duties of being a justice without being in the court, does that comport with how you understand the recovery from this kind of a process?
FLORES: Absolutely. So I think, you know, the administration trying to find her replacement to me makes no sense. She will be back in full form in -- I`d say within a month.
In terms of Justice Ginsburg`s own overall health, obviously with all the challenges that she has with her advanced age she gets a lot of questions about this all of the time. And she`s always said that she will stay on the court as long as she is capable of participating in the job to the extent that she needs to, as long as she has all her faculties, as long as she`s at full strength.
Is there anything about what she`s just been through that should foreshorten that time?
FLORES: No. The question is what kind of cancer did she actually have in her lung? It could be a lung cancer. And it`s important to note that 1/5 of lung cancer patients have never smoked. She didn`t smoke.
Like you said before, she had colon cancer. Usually before colon cancer goes to the lung, it stops by the liver first before it gets there, unless it`s rectal cancer. And third, she`s had pancreatic surgery. Could this be metastatic disease from the pancreas? Most pancreas cancers are rabbits where they jump very quickly.
If this is from her pancreas, it`s behaving more like a turtle. So regardless of what kind of cancer she has, she will be fine.
MADDOW: Dr. Raja Flores, chair of the department of thoracic surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. How long have you been at Mount Sinai?
FLORES: About nine years now.
MADDOW: Where were you before that?
FLORES: I was at Sloan-Kettering for ten years.
MADDOW: Do you mind if I just keep calling you about this stuff all the time from here on out?
FLORES: Please? Thank you. It`s a privilege.
MADDOW: Dr. Flores, thank you very much.
FLORES: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Thank you.
Aren`t you glad we had him on? Haven`t you been wondering? Sleep well tonight. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Technically, that does for us tonight because we are out of time, but can I just tell you one more thing about the doctor we just had here from Mount Sinai? The chief of thoracic surgery?
Right after I said goodnight to him, we went to the commercial break, I just exclaimed to him about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, right, as he was leaving. I was like, yes, but she had this surgery when she was 85, doctor.
He said, so what? I`ve done this surgery on a patient who is 105. He just said that to me. And he was not joking. He said seriously, 105.
I give you this. We`ll see you again tomorrow night.
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