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Michael Cohen delays congressional testimony. TRANSCRIPT: 1/23/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Kamala Harris

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), SOUTH BEND, INDIANA:  I was in the middle of a reelection campaign, but it was a time when I wanted to get on with my personal life, and I realized that meant coming out.  And I wound up getting re-elected with 80 percent of the vote. 

So I think it shows that if you give people a chance to evaluate you on your merits, then people will do right by you.  But I`m not naive either.  I know that there is a struggle for LGBTQ equality that continues to this day.  In fact, there are a lot of parts of my home state where you can still get fired just because of you who are. 

HAYES:  Pete Buttigieg, thank you so much for taking some time to join us tonight. 

That is ALL IN for this evening.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.  Much appreciated.

HAYES:  You bet.

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

I am very happy to say that California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris is going to be my guest this hour right here in studio for the interview.  Senator Harris announced on Martin Luther King Day this week that she is declaring herself a candidate for president of the United States.  This will be Senator Harris` first interview since she made that announcement on "Good Morning America" on Monday morning, and I am really, really looking forward to having her here. 

It`s been a busy day in the news, though, so there are a few other things I`m keeping an eye on that I want to get to before we bring Senator Harris in.  On the day when President Trump had his bizarre and unsettling summit and joint press appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki this past July, remember that?  Remember the national freak-out that that occasioned? 

The very same day that that summit happened in Helsinki, federal prosecutors that day unsealed this criminal complaint against a woman named Maria Butina, who`s a Russian citizen, she was charged with having acted in this country secretly as an agent of the Russian government.  And one of the things that was odd, particularly at that moment in time when our president was behaving so strangely with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, we now know also that summit included a two-hour meeting in which no other officials were present, no other U.S. officials were present other than Trump and Putin, and from which no other U.S. officials have ever even today been able to get any sort of description of the content of that conversation between Trump and Putin, right?

So it was weird at the time.  The more we`ve learned about it since then, it`s just gotten weirder and more sinister.  But particularly on that day, while that, again, unsettling spectacle was unfolding overseas in Finland, getting those charges unsealed that day about Maria Butina, it was just surreal, in part it was surreal because of this.  This is a video message created by John Bolton in which he offers warm greetings and support to Maria Butina`s gun rights organization. 

As you can see in this video, those are not our subtitles there.  Those Russian subtitles were for the benefit of his audience.  This is a video in which Bolton spoke English full face straight to camera, and then there were Russian subtitles to help his Russian audience understand his greetings and the support that he was offering this Russian organization. 

And this is amazing on a whole bunch of different levels.  But you see Maria Butina there with the red hair on the left?  She is the one that ultimately gets charged the same day that Trump is in Helsinki with Putin.  This video was John Bolton addressing her group in Russia via video link. 

And it was weird for a million reasons.  I mean, first of all, there aren`t really gun rights organizations in Russia.  He is giving this fulsome greeting, these warm regards to Russians who are pursuing the right to bear arms. 

You know what?  There is no right to bear arms in Russia.  Vladimir Putin does not support the right to bear arms for the general Russian public. 

Maria Butina is part of Putin`s political party.  The purpose of her being allowed to create this sham supposed gun rights organization ended up spelled out in the criminal complaint that federal prosecutors unsealed against her the very day that president Trump was standing alongside Putin in Helsinki nodding at him and smiling and him and agreeing with everything he said while John Bolton stood on the sidelines of that summit as the president`s national security adviser. 

Butina was charged by federal prosecutors with being an agent of the Russian government who was not actually pursuing gun rights in Russia, although she posed as a Russian gun rights activist.  According to the criminal complaint and the case against her laid out by federal prosecutors, that whole Russian gun rights thing was a scam.  What she was really doing was using the U.S. gun rights movement, specifically the American NRA as a pretext to infiltrate the conservative movement and the Republican Party in this country on behalf of the government of Russia. 

She posed as a Russian gun rights leading light.  There is no such thing as a Russian gun rights leading light. 

But John Bolton addressed her sham gun rights organization as if she really was that, and as if that organization was a real thing.  And so it was just kind of amazing.  On the day of those charges, right, I mean that day is the sitting national security adviser of the United States there in Helsinki while the president is having his super sketchy terrifying meeting with the president of Russia, on that same day this alleged agent is being charged in Washington, D.C. while that meeting is happening. 

And you get this collision of these two things, right?  It turns out while the president is behaving super sketchily towards the president of Russia, his national security adviser turns out to have been involved in that alleged Russian agent`s influence operation.  And we know that because we`ve got him on tape offering warm greetings with Russian subtitles. 

I mean, if nothing else, there is a little bit of a red flag there, right?  Particularly given what happened with Trump`s other national security adviser and Russia, Mike Flynn, right?  It just always seemed like maybe that might be something worth following up on.  Perhaps all the more so now that Maria Butina has actually plead guilty and agreed to become a cooperating witness with federal prosecutors.  Now, all these many months down the line, somebody is apparently following up on that John Bolton/Maria Butina fake Russian gun rights thing. 

Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland is chairman of the House Oversight Committee.  Today, he has written to the new White House counsel Pat Cipollone asking for information on how security clearance and security clearance applications were handled for a whole bunch of Trump officials and former Trump administration officials, including the aforementioned first Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn, also, his deputy, K.T. McFarland, who also reportedly made false statements to the FBI about contact between the Trump transition and the Russian government.

  Elijah Cummings has also asked about Mike Flynn`s son, about former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka, about current White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who reportedly had to update his security clearance application more than 40 times.  Cummings has also asked about a former deputy to Mike Flynn, Robin Townley, who while Townley was serving as a deputy -- while Townley was serving as a deputy to Mike Flynn, Townley was reportedly rejected for a top security clearance. 

So, high-ranking job on the National Security Council.  You get rejected for a security clearance, and then the national security adviser pleads guilty to a felony and now he is awaiting sentencing?  Yes, maybe somebody should look into that. 

And in addition to all of that, Elijah Cummings is now pushing specifically on this weird red flag that has been hanging out there for months about the current national security adviser John Bolton and this first accused now admitted Russian agent, Maria Butina.  She has now plead guilty, and she is Cooperating with prosecutors. 

Specifically, Congressman Cummings is asking the White House to tell his committee whether John Bolton disclosed his previous contacts and work with Maria Butina when he came to work at the White House.  His letter to the White House today, Cummings describing Butina as a Russian national who has now plead guilty to conspiring to act as an agent of the Russian government. 

Did John Bolton talk about his work with her when you hired him to be national security adviser, after your other national security adviser plead guilty to a felony related to his undisclosed contacts with the Russian government?  Did you look into that? 

Congressman Cummings has also written directly to the NRA, which is interesting.  It`s funny, when you write to the NRA now, you have to write to President Oliver North.  Elijah Cummings has now written to the NRA asking that organization to also produce documents related to Bolton`s appearance by video at a roundtable sponsored by a Russian gun rights organization.  Bolton at the time was on the NRA`s subcommittee on international affairs.  Congressman Cummings is now asking the NRA about Bolton`s foreign contacts and foreign trips that he may have made in that context. 

I think the idea here is that Cummings is presumably trying to get at any kind of security clearance problems Bolton might have had, maybe should have had in getting the national security adviser job, even if he didn`t disclose these things directly to the White House. 

Now, I don`t know if the NRA and president Oliver North will respond to this request for information.  I don`t know if this will ultimately become a subpoena and then a fight over a subpoena, but if the White House or the NRA, if they do hand over information to Congressman Cummings` committee, it`s -- I mean, it`s probably going to be interesting, right?  One of the other things that Cummings is going to be asking for in addition to all this stuff about Bolton is, quote, all documents related to direct or indirect contact between members of the NRA and Maria Butina. 

So, if we do get information from the NRA, even from the White House on this, we may yet learn more about that fascinating case.  Maria Butina`s case is sort of out of the courtroom for a while now because she has pled guilty, and she is cooperating in an ongoing way with prosecutors.  That all happens out of our sight.  We have very little insight now into what`s going on with that case and how illuminating it might ultimately be to the overall question of Russian overall involvement in the election of Donald Trump. 

But now that it`s not just Republicans in control of Congress, now in our new reality, legal cases and court proceedings are not the only way we`re getting information about the Russian government interference in our election to elect Donald Trump.  It`s now also these Democratic-led committees in the House.  So, it is now possible that Congressman Elijah Cummings and the Oversight Committee will pry some of that information loose themselves. 

Congressman Cummings and Congressman Schiff from the intelligence committee were also involved today to work out an arrangement for the president`s long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen to still appear before Congress and give public testimony, despite what Mr. Cohen now says is a creditable fear for himself and his family.  He says because of the sort of implicitly threatening remarks made by the president himself about Cohen`s previously announced plan to speak with the Oversight Committee on February 7th because of follow-up comments from the president`s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Cohen announced today that he no longer intends to show up to testify on February 7th, quote, due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and President Trump`s lawyer/spokesman Rudy Giuliani. 

Cummings and Schiff -- Schiff is also expecting to line up testimony from Michael Cohen for his Intelligence Committee.  They released a joint statement in response to this today from Cohen, and I imagine if you work in the White House counsel`s office, this is the sort of thing that has you reaching for the Pepto-Bismol. 

Quote: We have received Cohen`s notice postponing his voluntary appearance in an open hearing on the committee on oversight and reform.  We certainly understand the completely legitimate concerns for the safety and security of Mr. Cohen and his family in light of the attacks last week by President Trump and again this weekend by his attorney Rudy Giuliani.  As we stated previously with our colleague, Chairman Nadler of the Judiciary Committee, efforts to intimidate witnesses, to scare the family members of those witnesses or prevent witnesses from testifying before Congress, those are textbook mob tactics that we condemn in the strongest terms.  Our nation`s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress. 

Quote: We understand that Mr. Cohen`s wife and other family members fear for their safety after these attacks.  We have repeatedly offered our assistance to work with law enforcement to enhance security measures for Cohen and his family. 

But then they say this as the sort of culmination of their statement, that they still expect Cohen to give his testimony.  Quote: We will not let the president`s tactics prevent Congress from performing our constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities.  This will not stop us from getting to the truth.  We expect Mr. Cohen to appear before both committees, and we remain engaged with his counsel about his upcoming appearances. 

Speaking later in the day with reporters, Congressman Elijah Cummings was willing to put a fine point on it. 


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  I think the most disturbing thing about this is that Mr. Cohen feels that he and his family have been intimidated.  He feels that the president of the United States of America and his attorney have not only intimidated him, but intimidated his family.  And this is something that should upset every single American.  This is the United States of America.  This is not Russia. 


MADDOW:  So, ultimately where this lands sounds like they will subpoena Michael Cohen if they need to.  I don`t know what kind of arrangements they may be working out with law enforcement in terms of trying to ensure Cohen`s safety and his family`s safety. 

I also don`t know what plans Congress may have for trying to hold the president liable for witness tampering, if that is in fact what happened here with how he publicly challenged Cohen`s planned testimony.  That seems to be what Congressman Cummings and Congressman Schiff and Congressman Nadler are getting at when they chastise the White House, after warning them in the first place, now chastising the White House for the statements that led to Cohen`s trying to rescind his acceptance of the invitation to testify today. 

So that`s the Michael Cohen situation as of right now.  It is definitely a watch this space situation.  I imagine that those developments in terms of when he`s going to testify, where he`s going to testify, under what circumstances and his safety arrangements, the question of the president potentially witness tampering here, that is all going to develop quickly over the course of tonight and the next few days. 

And while that Michael Cohen story developed today, we also had a couple of new developments in the criminal case involving the president`s campaign chairman.  There is going to be a hearing in Paul Manafort`s case on Friday.  Manafort`s lawyers made clear to the judge in his case today that Manafort himself doesn`t personally want to attend that hearing on Friday. 

He does not want to go.  He would prefer to stay in jail.  The judge rejected that request and said no, Manafort has to be there. 

Manafort`s lawyers then instantly followed up with a subsequent filing that said effectively, well, OK, if you`re going to make him go to the hearing even though he doesn`t want to, can he at least please wear a suit instead of his prison jumpsuit?  Manafort`s lawyers have asked this judge for that before with past hearings, and in the past she has said no.  We await that ruling tonight, though. 

I mean, what`s going on in Paul Manafort`s case right now, what this hearing is going to be about on Friday, well, we got this partially redacted filing about today in his case.  It`s all about the prosecutor`s allegations, the special counsel`s allegations that Manafort breached his plea agreement.  And the reason they are fighting this out to the last detail is because whether or not he kept to the terms of his plea agreement or whether he breached the plea agreement by lying to prosecutors, which is what prosecutors say, that will ultimately have a huge impact on how his life goes from here on out. 

The way the judge ultimately decides this question of whether or not Manafort lied to prosecutors and breached his plea agreement, that may ultimately have a determinative affect on how much time, how many years or decades Manafort is going to spend in prison when this is all done.  And that same fight also raises interesting questions about how much information prosecutors have really been able to get out of Manafort since he plead guilty and started supposedly cooperating. 

I mean, that`s important, not just in terms of Manafort`s fate.  That`s in terms of all of our fate, because of Manafort`s proximity to the real centerpiece of the Mueller investigation, his proximity into the central question of Russia`s involvement in electing Trump and the Trump campaign`s potential complicity in that scheme. 

We did a long report the other night about the related fate of this young woman, who is a model from Belarus.  She says she spent time working as an escort for this Russian oligarch, who has long had political, business and financial ties to the president`s campaign chair, Paul Manafort.  This is the guy to whom Paul Manafort reportedly owed millions of dollars.  This is the guy to whom Paul Manafort reportedly offered private briefings during the presidential campaign while Manafort was serving as the campaign chairman for Trump. 

More recently, we learned that the special counsel`s office has alleged that Manafort supplied internal Trump campaign polling data to a Russian guy who Manafort worked with who was his intermediary with that oligarch.  And as far as I know, nobody`s even tried to come up with a benign explanation thus far as to why anyone in Russia would need access to internal Trump campaign polling data during the campaign. 

Why would they need that?  Why would somebody be marketing that to you?  Why would somebody even be showing that off to you?  Let alone shipping it to you?

But that same oligarch at the center of all those open questions is the same guy who the Trump administration just lifted sanctions on right before Christmas.  The Trump administration bent over backwards to delay and ultimately lift sanctions on the business empire of this oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.  It has since been reported that that move is likely to make Deripaska hundreds of millions of dollars personally.  That`s thanks to Republicans in the U.S. Senate who wouldn`t join with Democrats to block that Trump administration move.  They came within two votes, but they couldn`t get there. 

As to whether or not Deripaska`s role in the overall Russia scandal will ever be fully spelled out, I think a lot of it does have to do with the ultimate disposition of Paul Manafort and the Manafort criminal case.  That continues to unfold.  We will get to lay eyes on Manafort in court, no matter how he is dressed on Friday of this week. 

That issue about Deripaska as a sort of dangling thread in this scandal, though, it may also depend in part on that very young woman from Belarus.  And we also can sort of lay eyes on her now.  This woman posted video to Instagram of Oleg Deripaska talking about the United States with the Russian deputy prime minister on board Deripaska`s very fancy yacht in august of 2016 during the campaign.  Thereafter she claimed to have further video, audio, and photographic documentation of Deripaska also discussing what she says were his plans for the very fancy yacht in august of 2016 during the campaign. 

Thereafter she claimed to have further video, audio, and photographic documentation of Deripaska also discussing what she says were his plans for the Russian election which three fluent English speakers who she believed to be Americans.  She said those meetings which she said to have documentation of happened during the campaign. 

We have been covering her case here on the show over the last week because on Tuesday of last week, she was unexpectedly freed from a prison in Thailand.  She was then apparently deported against her will to Russia.  Upon arriving at the Moscow airport, she was prevented from speaking to multiple journalists who turned up to ask her questions.  She was forcibly arrested at the airport there, dragged into a wheelchair and taken away. 

At a court in Moscow this weekend in a big glassed in box inside the courtroom, she appeared to be fairly terrified, speaking to reporters at the courthouse, she apologized over and over and over again to that oligarch, to Oleg Deripaska, saying she would release no further recordings.  She would never say his name again.  She did not want him to be upset with her anymore.  She could not take any more of this. 

After that, she was unexpectedly released from custody in Moscow yesterday.  Is she safe?  What will ultimately be the dispensation of all this evidence she said she had related to the presidential election and her contact with Deripaska around the time that we know Deripaska was in contact with Manafort about the Trump campaign while Manafort was running the Trump campaign and Russia was interfering in the campaign to help Trump.  I mean, did she have that evidence?  If she did, what will become of it?  How will that help us understand some of these very central questions in terms of the main thesis of the Mueller investigation? 

We don`t know.  Today there was a press conference in Moscow called by a somewhat off center character who says that he is the lawyer for this young Belarusian woman.  The young woman herself did not show up for that press conference.  This video then appeared on Instagram showing a very, very close-up image of her face, her talking.  She`s got a swollen lip, as you can see.

In Russian in this video, she apologizes for not attending this press conference.  She says she is ill.  She said her face and her head are swelling up and she doesn`t know why.

So choose your own adventure here, in terms of where this all goes.  I mean, we`ll have that Manafort hearing on Friday.  We do not know if there will be public testimony from Michael Cohen in Congress before he reports to prison the first week in March.  We do not know what Congressman Elijah Cummings and Congressman Adam Schiff will be able to pry from the White House or even from the freaking NRA from their investigations that are now racing out of the gate now that those chairman have their memberships in place and they have subpoena power firmly in hand. 

Today is day 33 of the government shutdown.  Today there was lots of sturm und drang over whether president Trump will get to deliver a traditional state of the union address to a joint session of congress.  Whether or not you followed all that back and forth today, the short answer is no, he will not get to do that, not unless Nancy Pelosi decides to give him that privilege, and she says she is not going to allow him to do that unless and until the government has been reopened. 

There will be dueling bills in the U.S. Senate tomorrow to try to reopen the government, but nobody expects them to work.  Meanwhile, IRS agents, meat inspectors, federal prison guards are all starting to not show up for work rather than being forced to work without being paid. 

Inside the Trump White House, the Office of Budget and Management today started requesting input on what else within the federal government can just be fully, just entirely shut off if the government shutdown goes on not just until next month, February, but also into March. 

And these things tie together, right?  I mean, of course, this isn`t our first shutdown.  It is the only one that`s gone on this long because we`ve all been through other shutdowns, shorter shutdowns that happened under more normal circumstances, we know what coverage of these crease crises is usually like.  It starts from the premise what more or less actors are decided to harm the U.S. government, to harm the American people to a point while they try to get the other side to blink, and the whole shutdown exercise is so they can get something they want out of the other side that they couldn`t otherwise get through normal means without causing a 4 little bit of pain. 

I mean, normal shutdowns are bad enough, but in this case, the shutdown is not only longer, it`s also qualitatively different.  If you are sensing there is no urgency whatsoever on the part of the president to end this one, you are correct.  There is nothing from the president to suggest at all that he has any interests in this wrapping up any time soon, or that he had any real concern at all about the harm that it is causing as it goes on. 

In this case, unlike any other shutdown we have had over any other issue for any amount of time, in this case, the president seems to have no interest in ending it, and in this case, the president, who is insisting on the shutdown, is the same president who is at the center of the most serious criminal counterintelligence investigations to ever get near a sitting president.  The FBI, since Donald Trump has been president, they literally opened a formal investigation to see if they can substantiate the evidence and behaviors that suggested the president could be acting on behalf of a foreign government as essentially a foreign government`s agent here in the United States and inside the U.S. government.  And not just any foreign power, but a hostile foreign power that wants to do us as much harm as possible.

And none of us know what the ultimate dispensation of that counterintelligence case concerning the president has been, or what it will be if it continues under Robert Mueller.  But we`re watching all of these various threads of it still dangling, right?  Cohen and Manafort and Butina and Deripaska and all the rest of it. 

Suspend your disbelief, though, for just a second.  If that counterintelligence investigation was true, if Russia did get a U.S. president to act on their behalf against the United States, if you were Russia, what else would you want that president to do at this point?  I mean, what might you conceivably want him to do that he`s not already done or at least tried? 

I mean, how psych ready you for your investment in that guy thus far, right?  It`s day 33 now.  The government is not just a vehicle that has sputtered to a halt.  Each passing day pours more sugar into the gas tank, making it harder and harder for this thing to ever get running again. 

Democrats in Congress are gearing up to land their first punches with the power that they have under Article I of the Constitution.  The courts continue to spell out their mostly redacted, mostly blacked out partial accounts of this existential counterintelligence scandal that surrounds this presidency. 

But there is that other branch of government.  There is the executive.  And now with each passing day, more and more high profile Democrats are announcing their status as contenders to replace this president in our elections next year. 

And one of the highest profile of all of them has just announced her campaign.  She is Kamala Harris.  She is the former attorney general of the state of California.  She is a current senator from the state of California.  She is on the Judiciary and Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees. 

And she joins us here live, next.  


MADDOW:  Senator Kamala Harris is the former district attorney for the great city of San Francisco.  She is the former attorney general for the great state of California.  In 2016, she was elected to the U.S. Senate for the first time. 

You want to have a weird night?  On the same night, you get elected to the U.S. Senate at the same time that Donald Trump gets elected president of the United States. 

Senator Harris was also the author of a new book, which is called "The Truths We Hold."  It`s about her life before and during her time in politics, and it`s about her aspirations for the country more broadly. 

Senator Harris has announced this week that she is running for president of the United States, and she joins us now here in studio for the interview. 

Senator, thank you so much for making it here. 

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It`s great to be with you.  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  I know you have a million chances to be doing this interview, so thanks. 

HARRIS:  Well, I`m honored to be here, so thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  I do have to ask you in the middle of this shutdown, I imagine you`ll be heading back to Washington tomorrow to take votes on those bills. 

HARRIS:  Yes, yes. 

MADDOW:  Do you expect that we will be seeing any movement towards reopening the government any time soon? 

HARRIS:  I hope so. 

Listen, this Friday will be the second time this that`s federal workers are not receiving a paycheck, and I have personally heard the stories, we all have, of folks who are standing in food lines, people who are being threatened with eviction, people who are working around the clock without being paid -- and those folks, they don`t want a wall.  They want a paycheck.  And I think it is absolutely the height of irresponsibility that this administration is holding them and the American public hostage over the president`s vanity project. 

We have to keep the government running, and we have to open the government back up.  And there should not be any conditions on that.  Remember, right before Christmas, the United States Senate unanimously, which means in a bipartisan way, passed a spending bill.  Rachel, we were singing Christmas carols on the floor of the United States Senate.  I mean, it was such an aberration that some were concerned, you know, this is actually against Senate rules to sing on the floor. 

MADDOW:  Really, literally there was singing? 

HARRIS:  Literally, I was also singing. 


HARRIS:  I love Christmas carols, but that`s another point all together. 

The point being that that was the mood.  That was the mood. 

And I have to believe -- you know, Mitch McConnell, people may say many things about Mitch McConnell.  He -- when he takes the first step, it`s because he knows the tenth step.  So, we have that vote on the floor.  I am sure with everyone believing that it was a deal that would be done and the government would keep running. 

And then what happened?  Well, there have been a lot of talk about what the pressures were placed on the president in terms of changing his mind, because I think it`s fair to believe he changed his mind.

  And so, as a result, we now have central government agencies that are not functioning at their capacity.  If you want to talk about this vanity project, this wall being about national security, well, there are FBI employees who have been furloughed.  There are people who work for the Department of Homeland Security who are not being paid and stretching their hours, some of whom are calling in sick because they`ve got to figure out other ways of feeding their family. 

So, there is also something that is about a hypocritical suggestion -- it`s an approach, it`s hypocrisy to say that this wall is about securing the American homeland and securing the nation.  If you really want to secure the nation, pay those people to do the job that they take and took an oath to do every day. 

MADDOW:  There was -- on the point you were just making there about homeland security, tonight, there has just been a letter sent to the president from the five former secretaries of Homeland Security, including General John Kelly, who until quite recently was chief of staff to President Trump.  They`re calling -- saying: Homeland security is national security, and they`re calling on the president to at least fund that department. 

Obviously, it is striking to see John Kelly`s signature on that letter as well. 

HARRIS:  Yes.  Good for him, because, listen, these people cannot be expected to work without pay.  And they do a job that requires and we as the American public would hope that they are able to put full concentration in the job that they have concerning themselves about our security, and we`re not paying them.  People are worried about eviction. 

You know what?  Listen, you know what I think should happen?  If the president feels this strongly about it, then open up the Trump Tower and let everybody live in there rent-free, and then maybe we can start having a discussion. 


MADDOW:  I mean, February -- 

HARRIS:  I bet he`s got some rooms. 

MADDOW:  February 1st is going to be rent day for a lot of people --

HARRIS:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  -- who rely on checks on what`s supposed to be a good job. 

HARRIS:  It`s no joking matter. 


HARRIS:  It`s not -- this is one of the biggest challenges facing our country.  And actually, this is symbolic of a bigger point, which is the failure of this administration to pay attention to the fact that we have so many American families who are living paycheck to paycheck, and for whom this economy is not working. 

This economy is not working for working people.  And this is another example of this administration`s inability to see and understand and, in fact, have any curiosity about how people are getting by day to day.  This is a serious matter, and it`s reflective of a much bigger point, which is an inability to understand priorities for individuals, for families, for neighborhoods, much less for the country. 

It is not and should not be about yourself and your ego.  It should be about what should be the priorities for the American people.  The position the administration is taking right now is not reflective of Americans` priorities. 

MADDOW:  The Democrats are fully unified on this issue. 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  The Republicans, as you say, joined in that unanimous vote in the Senate before Christmas --

HARRIS:  Right. 

MADDOW:  -- in order to open this thing up.

At this point, though, it feels like the president is not at all troubled by any of the things you are describing, and he does seem like a different kind of cat in terms of the types of political influences that matter to him.  He`s just -- he`s just different than other politicians. 

Because of that, it feels to me like somebody is going to have to pull a new kind of rabbit out of a hat, that there is going to have to be some new element of this debate. 

HARRIS:  So let me just say I just got distracted for a moment because you mentioned the cat. 

MADDOW:  And the rabbit and the hat --

HARRIS:  And what I was thinking is that dog don`t hunt. 


MADDOW:  So we can take a zoological path. 

HARRIS:  There are all kinds of metaphors, but yes.  There has to be a solution. 

MADDOW:  Start an interruption of some kind to this process, because what you are saying, which is what I`ve heard a lot of other Democrats articulate about this, I don`t think that`s going to change.  I don`t think he`s going to get a wall. 

But this does have to end because the country isn`t just being hurt in terms of individual families and employees being hurt.  The country is being hurt in terms of our capacity to do the things that the government does. 

HARRIS:  You`re right.  You`re totally right. 

MADDOW:  I`m worried that it`s happening in a way that is intentional, that the government is supposed to be hurt, that law enforcement and national security is supposed to be hurt, and that this is coming from a very dark place. 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  And so, where does that interruption come from?  Where does that new dynamic come from? 

HARRIS:  Well, a part of it has to come from what the founders of our country imagined to be the design of our democracy, which is the design included in anticipation of this kind of moment and that there should be checks and balances and everybody who is responsible and a supposed leader in our government should then kick in and do their job around the checks and balances that should be in place. 

And that means Congress needs to act and to say, we will put these bills on the floor.  Let`s put a clean bill on the floor for a vote in the United States Senate.  We did it before.  Let`s do it again. 

Have the courage.  Have the courage to stand up and say what you know to be true.  This is wrong, and it is unnecessary. 

MADDOW:  Senator Kamala Harris is our guest.  Stay right with us. 

HARRIS:  Yes, yes. 

MADDOW:  We`ll be right back with Senator Harris.  She announced this week that she is running for president.  Lots to talk to her about. 

We`ll be right back.

HARRIS:  Thank you.


MADDOW:  Back with us now for the interview is Democratic Senator Kamala Harris of California.  She is a newly declared candidate for president in 2020. 

You are the third U.S. senator to jump in to the presidential race.  Some other senators may follow.  Does that make things weird at work? 

HARRIS:  You know, I will say that of those who have entered or at least opened exploratory committees and those who are rumored to enter, we all have a great deal of respect for each other and have worked together on many issues and are aligned on many issues.  And, of course, anyone who wants to should join, and I think it will be a robust and a healthy conversation, and I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues. 

MADDOW:  You have only been in the Senate -- 

HARRIS:  Truly have a great deal of respect. 

MADDOW:  -- for two years. 


MADDOW:  Why so fast?  Why would you -- why are you willing to move on from this job so fast, you just got there?

HARRIS:  November of 2016. 

And in terms of my background, I have served in local government.  I have served in state government, and now in federal government.  I understand how these systems work, and I understand how it is not working right now with the current administration, and how it is impacting people at every level of our society, much less government. 

The experience that I`ve had along the years has been the experience of being -- running an office of 5,000 people, being a part of the executive branch.  I know the power of these offices and I know the harm that they can wreak when they are run in the way that is currently happening. 

I was raised by a mother in particular who taught us that if you see a problem, you don`t complain about it.  You do something about it.  And when I look at what is going on in our country and the way that, frankly, there is an attack on not only the American dream but American values, and I know that might sound corny, but it`s happening.  We -- each of us has to figure out where we`re going step up and what we`re going to do.  You know, it`s one thing to complain, but I think this is a moment that should require everyone to look in the mirror and ask what am I doing right now and what can I do?

Here`s my perspective.  If you want to just take to it a more long-term, years from now, members of our family, our children, our grandchildren, they`re going to look at us and they`re going to ask us, where were you at that inflection moment?  And they`re going to want to hear and I think we`re going want to say something that is more than just how we felt. 

This is a moment that has to be about what is each of us prepared to do.  And, Rachel, you`ve seen this.  So many people are answering that question by doing so much.  In the United States Senate, in my two years there, I have seen thousands of Dreamers traveling from around the country -- plane, train, bus, coming to the United States capitol, probably sleeping ten deep on someone`s living room floor, and these Dreamers walking the halls of the United States Congress, believing if they are seen and their stories are heard, it will matter. 

I have seen the same thing with parents, mothers and fathers of children at various stages of disability.  Families that it requires great effort to move the child from one room of the house to another, much less travel across the country, to travel the halls of United States Congress making sure their stories were heard and their faces were seen.  Same with survivors of sexual assault after the Kavanaugh hearing and during, traveling and having the courage to tell a story they`ve never told anyone. 

There is an incredible thing happening in our country right now where there is action and there is a counteraction.  And it is a beautiful thing to see, which is so many people understanding we can do better.  We deserve better.  This is not reflective of who we are. 

And I will say also that in that fight, it really is an aspirational fight.  It is a fight for something, not just against something.  It is a fight fundamentally grounded in what I think most people believe, which is we believe in the ideals of our country. 

You know, this -- we are a country that has always been aspirational.  We have these ideals.  We were founded on these ideals.  Our strength is that we fight for these ideals and our strength is also that we speak truth and acknowledged we`ve never quite reached those ideals.  We still have a whole lot of problems around issues of equality and freedom and fairness, right? 

But people are prepared to fight, and I am prepared to join that fight, and if necessary, and if folks will have me, I am prepared to help lead that fight. 

MADDOW:  You have put your past experience in law enforcement as the attorney general in California and as a prosecutor, as the D.A. in San Francisco, the elected D.A.  I remember that election.  I remember being amazed to see you from come outside, come outside from the two establishment candidates and beat them both. 

HARRIS:  Right. 

MADDOW:  And it was a -- it was a political marvel to see you win that race.  I remember watching it from up close.  But I also know that you have faced -- you`ve been buffeted by tough controversies in both of those jobs. 

HARRIS:  Yes, right. 

MADDOW:  When you were the D.A. in San Francisco, there was a lab tech who was systematically messing with evidence. 

HARRIS:  Oh, yes. 

MADDOW:  And when -- and hundreds of convictions, hundreds of cases were dismissed because of that. 

HARRIS:  That`s right. 

MADDOW:  When the judge in that lab tech case ruled on what happened, the judge said prosecutors, the highest level of the D.A.`s office, your office, had to know there were serious problems at the crime lab, that that lab tech was messing with evidence and anything she touched essentially was screwing up cases. 

How did that happen under your leadership without you knowing about it? 

HARRIS:  So the crime lab was run by the San Francisco Police Department, not by my office.  It was run by the police department.  There was a technician, to your point, who worked in that crime lab, who was basically sniffing what she should have been measuring. 

And it turned out that hundreds of cases she had handled and because of the -- because of her misconduct, I was going to say (INAUDIBLE), but because of what we knew she did, which was manipulate evidence, you`re right.  We dismissed those cases. 

MADDOW:  Hundreds of them. 

HARRIS:  Yes, hundreds of them, because it was the right thing to do.  When somebody abuses their power, especially in law enforcement, there is going to have to be a consequence. 

MADDOW:  But did prosecutors working under you know about the concerns about that lab -- 

HARRIS:  The prosecutors in my office -- 

MADDOW:  -- which is what the judge alleged? 

HARRIS:  -- did not know about it, at least said they did not know about it.  But the result and the consequence is that cases that prosecutors had worked on were dismissed rightly, and it was my responsibility to say those cases will be dismissed because there has been an abuse in the system. 

And that gets to a wider point -- where we see abuses in the criminal justice system and particular by law enforcement, we`ve got make sure there is a system in place in this country for consequence and accountability.  And at the very least, it`s going to have to be about getting rid of those cases, but also reforming the system.  And that`s what we did after that in terms of making sure there were steps in place at least as the cases came into the D.A.`s office that we would make sure there was no taint or no manipulation before it came in. 

MADDOW:  From another direction, another controversy from when you were D.A. was in 2004.  Police Officer Isaac Espinoza was killed. 

HARRIS:  Yes, yes. 

MADDOW:  And I know that you at the time were personally opposed to the death penalty.  Are you still?

HARRIS:  I`ve been my entire life and still am, for very good reasons that I can expand upon. 

MADDOW:  For full disclosure in asking you the question, I am inclined the same way myself.  But as D.A. -- 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  -- you elected to not seek the death penalty for the person who killed Officer Espinoza. 

HARRIS:  Right. 

MADDOW:  And the person who killed the -- killed the officer, and I don`t - - we don`t need to publicize that person because the officer should be remembered and not him.

HARRIS:  That`s exactly right.

MADDOW:  Did get a life sentence. 


MADDOW:  Was convicted. 

HARRIS:  That`s right. 

MADDOW:  But when you`re running for president now, obviously, you know you`ve faced questions about that every time you`ve run for office. 

HARRIS:  Yes, I have. 

MADDOW:  That will put the death penalty on the table as an issue of national debate.  The president is an enthusiastic proponent of the death penalty, with no qualms whatsoever.  You versus Donald Trump on the death penalty would make that a central debate for the country.  Would that be constructive or not? 

HARRIS:  I think it is a debate that we should have.  I believe that the death penalty is extremely flawed as a system.  I have always been opposed to the death penalty. 

Back to the point of that case, I`m going to tell you that there were Democrats that said the case should be taken away from me, high-level elected Democrats who said the case should be taken away from me because I would not seek the death penalty.  But I did what I believed was the right thing to do, and the killer of that officer will be in jail for the -- prison for the rest of his life. 

On the issue of a national debate -- absolutely.  Listen, we are talking about a system that creates a final punishment without any requirement that there be DNA to prove it.  If there is DNA, it may prove it but you don`t need DNA. 

It is a system where it has been fundamentally proven to be applied to African-American and Latino men and poor men disproportionately for the same kind of crime.  It is a process where if you want to talk about deterrence -- listen, I have personally prosecuted homicide cases.  I specialized for a long time in child sexual assault cases.  I have dealt with all kinds of cases that, you know, are not for a PG show -- I don`t know if your show is PG, by the way. 

But let me say this, nobody ever stood there and was about to pull the trigger and then decided, hmm, is this going to be life without possibility of parole or the death penalty before they decide to pull the trigger?  So, the idea that it is a deterrent is also not a strong argument for having in place a system that is fundamentally flawed. 

So, yes, I am personally opposed to the death penalty.  I absolutely believe there should be severe and serious consequence for violent crime, which is why I`ve prosecuted those cases and will always seek the highest sentence, consistent with the facts of the case, but the death penalty is flawed and I welcome that debate if it`s necessary. 

MADDOW:  Senator Kamala Harris of California is our guest.  She is running for president.  We`ll be right back with the senator just after this. 


MADDOW:  Kamala Harris is a senator from California.  She is now a Democratic presidential contender. 

Senator Harris, thanks again. 

HARRIS:  Thanks (ph).

MADDOW:  You write in your new book about Attorney General Eric Holder placing a sort of intimidating phone call to you in 2014.  You were attorney general of the state of California and he asked you essentially if you would like to be attorney general of the United States, since he thought that his time in the office should be coming to an end.  I can`t imagine as a state attorney general or as any level of lawyer saying no, but you said no. 

HARRIS:  Yes, it was a very difficult decision.  And something I thought about a lot and talked about, but essentially I was in the -- I was at a point in my career as attorney general where I had embarked on creating a statewide initiative around re-entry of former offenders and it was becoming a model.  I had started an open data initiative called open justice where I was for the first time of any Department of Justice publicly sharing arrest data, deaths in custody.  We were in the middle of -- I created a bureau called the Bureau of Children`s Justice because there was no state agency focused on needs of children and their rights. 

And I wanted to see that through, and, frankly, at the point at which the - - General Holder approached me, I was concerned that given the state of what was happening in D.C. that I wouldn`t be able to have as much of an impact, frankly, and I wanted to see my job through.  It was a difficult decision. 

I mean, look, my mother, who is, you know, now in heaven, who gave birth to her daughter at Kaiser Hospital, Oakland, California, when she was 25. 

MADDOW:  I was born at Kaiser in Hayward. 

HARRIS:  You are -- yes, right?


HARRIS:  Kaiser babies. 


HARRIS:  And, you know, I mean, this is -- this is big stuff.  I`m sitting on your show talking about the fact I`m running for president of the United States.  This is some serious business.  But -- and so, I took it very seriously but I ultimately decided not to do it. 

MADDOW:  You visited Afghanistan in 2017, I believe -- Iraq in 2017. 

HARRIS:  Last year, and -- yes, and Iraq in 2017. 

MADDOW:  Iraq in 2017.  Afghanistan last year. 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  If you were elected president, you would, of course, be commander in chief.  The president has had an unusual record around the wars and around national security and troops abroad in that he has sometimes seemed to order things to happen that don`t necessarily happen and then he is --

HARRIS:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  -- later explained those away as if those were orders. 

Do you think that we should keep troops in Afghanistan?  The president seems to want to withdraw a large number of them but it`s not clear that`s going to happen. 

HARRIS:  So I do not.  I believe that we need to do it, though, in a responsible way and that is not what the president has done.  He has been conducting foreign policy through tweets, instead of what a commander in chief should do, which is understand the seriousness and the severity of one`s decisions and then put the time and the effort into studying an issue, consulting with their experts, be it generals, be it foreign policy experts, be it ambassadors and members of the State Department and our allies to make a decision. 

Instead of this approach that assumes that we`re the only one in the room or that he`s the only one in the room. 

I was in Afghanistan days before he made that decision, and, Rachel, when I was there, I spoke with generals and I spoke with troops.  There was an active conversation happening around negotiating what should be the future of Afghanistan.  And then out of nowhere, the president makes his decision.  It was irresponsible. 

MADDOW:  Senator Harris, I am excited to see the effect that you have on the primary process.  I think that you are going to be a formidable contender.  I will just say honestly, I think there is a good chance that you are going to win the nomination.  You in a general election fight against Donald Trump would be the funniest thing in the world to cover. 

But as you start this process, I hope you will keep us apprised and I hope you`ll come back. 

HARRIS:  I will.  I appreciate that. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Senator. 

HARRIS:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

HARRIS:  Thank you.

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


Good evening, Lawrence. 

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