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20,000 show up for Harris campaign launch. TRANSCRIPT: 1/28/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Richard Blumenthal, David Fahrenthold

CHRISTINA GREER, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY:  That`s going to protect her to a certain extent.  She`s still introducing herself. 

SAM SEDER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  And that`s my point, that there`s going to be a lot of people in those debates, that`s a great way of avoiding it. 

GREER:  Yes.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Yes.  Christina Greer and Sam Seder, thank you both for joining us. 

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. 

HAYES:  You bet.

MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Happy Monday, thanks for being here. 

There is a lot going on tonight and there`s a lot going on, coming up.  So I want to jump right in, let`s go. 

First, let`s get out our calendars because we have to make changes.  See, next week in your calendar, on Friday, where it says, and you had written in there for a long time that`s the day the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort is going to be sentenced to federal prison.  I know you had that date penciled in your calendar for a long time now.  Paul Manafort`s sentencing for multiple felonies. 

Friday, February 8th, next Friday, has been on the docket forever.  Turns out it`s good you only wrote it in in pencil because now you have to either erase it or at least messily "X" it out because the sentencing of the president`s campaign chair was called off today by the famously cantankerous judge who oversees Manafort`s case in Virginia.  Although that Virginia trial is over and Manafort was convicted at that trial of eight felonies, and that Virginia court famously likes to get stuff done fast with no delays, that`s the court, the so-called Rocket Docket, despite all of that, the sentencing of the president`s campaign chair which have been sentenced for next week, next Friday, that is now indefinitely on hiatus.  It`s indefinitely delayed. 

The problem is that the whole sentencing process for Paul Manafort has now been complicated by these new allegations from special counsel Robert Mueller that Manafort breached his plea deal and lied to prosecutors after he agreed to cooperate with them.  That specific issue, which Manafort is now facing, the question of whether or not he lied to prosecutors, that is going to be the subject of a court hearing for him next week in D.C, a week from today, on Monday, February 4th.  That hearing, you should probably put in your calendar because one may ultimately be the whole enchilada for Paul Manafort. 

I mean, depending on the outcome of that hearing as to whether or not he lied to prosecutors, he could be looking at an additional decade in prison on top of the seven to ten years he`s already likely facing for what happened in Virginia, whenever they finally decide that they`re going to go ahead with sentencing him in Virginia.  Again, as of today, the Virginia sentencing is off.  Monday`s hearing on whether or not he lied to prosecutors is on.  But that`s going to be held behind closed doors.  We`re not going to know what happened at that hearing on Monday until well after the fact.

  The reason they are apparently sealing that next crucial hearing for the president`s campaign chair is because we believe his case still relates to a bunch of sensitive matters and other ongoing investigations.  Again, we can`t see that because it`s all been happening under seal.  We probably will not know the whole truth of that for quite some time. 

But those dates have changed.  And now that the Manafort sentence is off next week, you should have a little space on your calendar on that day.  That same day, Friday of next week, you can now write in this.  Michael Cohen, the president`s longtime personal lawyer, will be testifying that day to the House Intelligence Committee under their new Democratic chairman, Congressman Adam Schiff. 

But again, that testimony from Michael Cohen will also be held behind closed doors so we, the public, won`t get to see it.  Most Intelligence Committee witnesses in the Russia investigation have appeared in closed session behind closed doors, that will be true of Michael Cohen next week at Intel.  That said, we are still waiting to find out when and where and under what circumstances Michael Cohen might do open public testimony that we can all listen in on and see.  Late last week, Cohen tried to back out of his commitment to appear at a public hearing before a different committee, before Democratic Chairman Elijah Cummings and the House Oversight Committee, Mr. Cohen backed out of that appearance on the grounds he and his family felt threatened by and intimidated by the president because of the president`s public remarks about that forthcoming testimony. 

Chairman Cummings and the Democrats seemed to believe that they`re going to get Michael Cohen publicly testifying in some way, somehow.  But we don`t know when that will be and the clock is ticking because Michael Cohen is due to appear and report to federal prison on March 7th.  Now, incidentally, Michael Cohen today dumped his whole legal team, which I didn`t see coming.  And maybe that`s related to the start of his forthcoming prison sentence.  Maybe that`s related to the ongoing negotiations about public testimony to Congress or closed door testimony to Congress. 

Until today, Cohen`s legal team had been led was named by a lawyer named Guy Petrillo.  Guy Petrillo is a very well-connected in the federal prosecutor`s office in Manhattan in the southern district of New York.  That`s the prosecutor`s office that charged Cohen and convicted Cohen or secured a guilty plea from Cohen for eight felonies, including campaign finance felonies in which prosecutors said the president was also personally implicated.  That was all SDNY. 

So, it made sense that Cohen had picked as his defense lawyer Guy Petrillo because Guy Petrillo used to be the head of the criminal division at SDNY.  You think about the strategy on these things.  Even if you`re not a lawyer and you`ve never been charged with anything, you can see the logic here.  If you`re being prosecuted by SDNY, it`s probably not a bad idea to have on your side a guy who used to run the criminal division at that prosecutor`s office. 

That is how Cohen got Petrillo in the first place.  But now, as of today with Michael Cohen preparing to go to prison and apparently negotiating these potential appearances before various congressional committees, now, today, he has dropped Guy Petrillo and he has announced a few new lawyers, a couple of new guys who`ve never been involved in his case before at all, a couple of guys from Chicago.  And again, we do not know the exact reason for the switch.  Nobody is quite sure why Michael Cohen dumped his old lawyers or if we should expect something unexpected from Michael Cohen because he`s got these new lawyers. 

But this late in the game, with the client convicted and on his way to prison, I mean, one perhaps reasonable guess as to what is driving this decision might be a word that rhymes with honey and starts with mm.  Those sort of things sometimes arrive at this point in a criminal case.  But it`s interesting, that same day that Michael Cohen is due next week to testify behind closed doors to the Intelligence Committee, Friday next week, there is also going to be public testimony that day before Democratic Chairman Jerry Nadler and House Judiciary Committee, there`s going to be public testimony that day from Matthew Whitaker, who is the Trump appointed acting attorney general at the Justice Department right now. 

Matt Whitaker was never confirmed by the Senate.  He also rejected ethics advice from the Justice Department, which he was instructed or advised he should recuse himself from any oversight role in the Mueller investigation.  He rejected that advice.  Did not recuse himself. 

Matt Whitaker is a hugely controversial figure as acting attorney general for a whole bunch of different reasons.  Today, though, ahead of this public testimony he`s about to give next week, today, he appears to have stepped in it.  Today, there was a press briefing about the Justice Department bringing criminal charges against a behemoth Chinese cell phone maker and at the press briefing announcing those charges, acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was asked about the status of the Mueller investigation, and again, this is a sensitive subject for him, right? 

He has a long record of public comments criticizing the Mueller investigation.  He was appointed to this job by President Trump.  There is every indication the reason President Trump appointed him to this job is because of the long record of public statements criticizing the Mueller investigation.  Whitaker was never confirmed by the Senate.  He got ethics advice from the career ethics officials at the department that he should recuse from being involved in the Mueller investigation.  He didn`t follow that advice. 

So, it`s an incredibly sensitive subject when it comes to Whitaker.  But regardless of what you think of Matt Whitaker, regardless of what you think of him being in this job as it relates to the Mueller investigation, regardless of all of that, if you are anybody who works at the Justice Department in any position of authority at the Justice Department, rule one of that particular fight club is that you do not talk about that particular fight club.  As a Justice Department official, you do not talk about open and ongoing investigations. 

That`s like day one of Justice Department orientation.  It`s an open investigation, don`t talk about it.  I mean, if you`re not Matthew Whitaker, the most controversial figure in the middle of this important investigation at the Justice Department, even if you`re not him, you do not do this.  Particularly if you`re him, you do not do this.  Particularly if you`re him, and you`re due to testify before Congress who is itching to get at you on this subject, you do not do this. 

And the fact that he shouldn`t have done this appears to dawn on him in the middle of these remarks.  Watch. 


REPORTER:  Before you came into your current role, you were critical of the special counsel investigation.  Now, since you have received your briefings, is there anything that you have seen or read that gives you concern about special counsel Robert Mueller or his investigation? 

MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  You know, I`ve been fully briefed on the investigation and, you know, I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report and I really am not going to talk about an open and ongoing investigation otherwise.  But, you know, sort of the statements I made was a private citizen, only with publicly available information.  And, you know, I`m comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed and, you know, either through the various means we have.  But right now, the investigation is I think close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible. 

KERRI KUPEC, DOJ SPOKESWOMAN:  That`s all we have time for today.  Thank you so much. 



MADDOW:  Thank you so much.  Let`s -- can we -- cut. 

Whatever you think of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, nobody at the Justice Department is supposed to talk about ongoing investigations at all.  I am comfortable the decisions made are going to be reviewed, you know, either through the various means we have but, right now, you know, the investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible. 

You can tell Matt Whitaker remembered he`s not supposed to opine on the investigation or wax ineloquent on this investigation.  You can tell that dawns on him in the middle of the remarks because of the giant soup bowl of hot sweat that breaks out on his head and his face in the middle of him making those remarks when his words start to fail him.  And at this point, nobody knows if he said the Mueller investigation is wrapping up because the Mueller investigation is wrapping up and he knows that, or perhaps because he doesn`t know that and when he`s passing on common wisdom. 

It`s also possible he blurted that out in a panic, which honestly looked like he barely strung those words together before the whole thing was called to an end quickly by the Justice Department spokeswoman.  So, who knows what that meant, but he shouldn`t be talking about an open and ongoing investigation regardless of what it is he thinks he might want to try to blurt out about it.  Those remarks from the acting attorney general caused a major stir today, honestly, nobody really knows what they might mean. 

On your calendar, though, you should note that that same official, Matt Whitaker, is due to testify publicly next week on Friday before Democratic Chairman Jerry Nadler and the Judiciary Committee.  I`m sweating just thinking about it.  I hope everybody will bring along a little helper to help them mop their brows so that there isn`t a tripping hazard by the time we`re done in the hearing room. 

I also think, though, just pure speculation, I think we should also be open to the possibility that that public testimony from Matthew Whitaker might get called off.  Again, it is scheduled for next week, Friday.  But Matthew Whitaker is only the acting attorney general right now.  There is a nominee to become the actual attorney general confirmed by the Senate. 

We`re going to have a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee here in a moment.  That Judiciary Committee`s vote on William Barr for attorney general is scheduled tomorrow.  If that vote in fact happens tomorrow, and if William Barr wins that vote and gets voted out of committee, again, just think about your calendar for the next week or so.  If the judiciary votes to confirm William Barr to be attorney general, it would be this time next week, it would be early next week they could give him a full vote on the Senate floor. 

So, if everything went his way and those votes happened as scheduled and expected, William Barr could be voted out of the committee tomorrow.  He could be confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as the attorney general in early next week.  Could be a week from tomorrow if that happens and we get a new Senate confirmed sworn in attorney general as of next week, that would mean Matthew Whitaker, hyperventilating Matthew Whitaker will no longer be acting attorney general. 

And if that happened, do you think this relaxed, self-assured man who we saw melting down before the cameras today, do you think he would keep his date with the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee that wants to ask lots of really, really hard questions in public session before all the cameras?  I mean, if you were him, and you were no longer serving as acting attorney general, would you keep that date, or would you come up with an excuse?  We shall see. 

You should factor into your calculations that we also just found out today the new date for the State of the Union is Tuesday of next week, a week from tomorrow.  You can see how this timing may be coming together, right?  If they get a Judiciary Committee vote to confirm William Barr tomorrow, that would probably mean they get a Senate vote to confirm Barr as attorney general a week from tomorrow, and they could swear him in a week from tomorrow. 

If they can time that for a week from tomorrow for Tuesday, that would give President Trump something like normal president seeming for him to brag about at the State of the Union that night.  I`d like to thank the Senate for confirming my attorney general nominee.  Yay. 

That would also give Matthew Whitaker a convenient opportunity in the middle of all the State of the Union news hoopla to finally announce that he`s sadly no longer available to testify in public session, now that he`s no longer acting attorney general, besides he has an urgent appointment with a cold compress and a fan.  And he`d be happy to talk to you some other time. 

And the reason you should know all of that stuff is on the horizon for the next few days is because tomorrow is going to be a little bit nuts.  Tomorrow is going to be a little nuts all day long.  First of all, in the morning, there is going to be the formal arraignment of President Trump`s longtime political adviser, Republican gadfly Roger Stone. 

He was arrested in Florida on Friday.  He had his first court appearance in Florida in federal court on Friday, but he`s being charged in Washington, D.C., and he will be arraigned in D.C. federal court for the first time, tomorrow.  Now, if you`re looking for a sign of how that`s likely to go, as of late this afternoon, Mr. Stone`s legal team had forgotten to apply to the court in D.C. for his lawyers to be able to represent him there.  His lawyers have to make that sort of an application because neither of them is formally admitted to the bar in D.C., and it`s not an unheard-of situation, it`s easy enough to ask the court`s permission to get around that as a legal issue. 

But the fact that Roger Stone`s lawyers have not even bothered to file the relevant paperwork by close of business today, and the judge needed to remind them that they need to file that paperwork before tomorrow`s arraignment and when they did file the paperwork at the last minute today, they filed it wrong and the judge still rejected it and so still Roger Stone`s lawyers are not approved to represent him in court tomorrow and they got a 9:00 a.m. deadline.  He`s due to be arraigned at 11:00 a.m. and it`s not sorted out even now?

That is not a good sign for roger stone`s legal team, for Roger Stone`s criminal case getting to be any less of a circus anytime soon.  But, again, I`m telling you, tomorrow is going to be nuts.  That Roger Stone arrangement is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time in D.C. federal court, who knows who`s going to represent him.  Simultaneous to that inevitably scrum and nuttiness, tomorrow will also be the first day of real oversight hearings in the new Congress, including in the democratically controlled House. 

One thing to watch for, the Armed Services Committee tomorrow in the House is going to convene hearings on the situation on the southern border and specifically the absolutely remarkable, if now somewhat forgotten fact the president deployed thousands of active duty U.S. troops to the U.S. southern border right before the midterm elections, while he was simultaneously making the case that people should vote in the midterm elections on the basis of the terrible security situation at the southern border. 

Now, I don`t know if that military deployment, if that expenditure of resources was just done for political effect to try to influence the midterm elections.  If it wasn`t, it`s presumably because the administration has some other reason for that military deployment.  The problem with that argument is that the president had a really hard time explaining what did justify that commitment of military personnel and resources to the border at that moment and in that way? 

For example, for example, I kid you not, the Trump appointed senior management at customs and border patrol reportedly sent an e-mailed request for information to employees of that agency, asking them for any factual backup they could locate to bolster the president`s repeated, detailed assertions that part of crisis at the southern border is that women are being tied up with tape in cars to traffic them across the border while they are all tied up with tape.  The president says this over and over and over again.  There does not as yet seem to be any known factual basis for the president`s repeated claims that this is part of the crisis at the border. 

There also does not seem to be any factual basis for the president`s claims that Mexican smugglers have amazing cars like you`ve never seen before, cars that are better than any other cars, cars that are much faster than the border patrol vehicles and that`s why U.S. law enforcement can`t keep up because the cars aren`t as amazing as the amazing Mexico cars.  We don`t know why the president has been saying either of those two things about the southern border.  Apparently, the border patrol doesn`t know either, and Trump appointees were surveying members of the border patrol to find out if there was any factual basis for any of these things the president has been saying. 

It should be noted that both of those things, the women being tied up with tape and put in cars to traffic them across the border and the border patrol having amazing cars that U.S. law enforcement can`t keep up with, both of those things do feature in a new movie, a movie called "Sicario: Day of the Soldado."  In that film, which is fiction, one of the things that happened is there a woman taped up in the car.  In that same movie, there are also Mexican smugglers with amazing vehicles that are too fast for American law enforcement to keep up with. 

Also, you know that thing the president keeps saying about the prayer rugs being found in the desert at the border, that is in that same movie, too.  Again, all plot points in the same movie, which is fiction. 

Now, in a normal administration, it would be insane to suggest the president of the United States seeing stuff in a movie and him maybe thinking it was real, or at least real enough to justify a U.S. military deployment of thousands of active duty U.S. troops to the border.  But in this case, women tied up with tape, put in car and driven across border and the magic vehicles and prayer rug thing, they do all appear to be from the same movie, rather than from the real world. 

I mean, is it possible that that is where the president cooked up these justifications for the supposed crisis at the border and pretense for sending U.S. troops there right before the election?  I mean, could that actually happen in real life?  I don`t know.  But for the first time, tomorrow morning, we are about to have actual oversight hearings to try to figure out what exactly that deployment was actually about and whether the president`s statements comport with the real reasons that deployment happened. 

And somehow it is at least comforting to know somebody may try to take a stab at that.  Tomorrow, there is also a really important oversight hearing in the Senate.  This is sort of the annual oversight hearing for the intelligence community.  And that sounds boring but what this means in practical terms, is that the head of the FBI, head of the CIA, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, head of the NSA, and the director of national intelligence, all the heads of all the big intelligence agencies are all going to be there in person all at once answering questions in open session.  And I don`t expect any of them to break out in buckets of flop sweat like Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker did today. 

The heads of those intelligence agencies will be in Congress tomorrow morning in the Senate answering questions in public session for the first time since the Helsinki summit, between Trump and Putin.  Think they might have anything to say about that?  Since the murder of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with the Trump administration excusing the Saudi Arabia potential role, Saudi Arabian government`s role in causing the death. 

Even just in the last few days, there have been serious revelations and allegations made in open source public reporting that will be fascinating to get these chiefs on the record about.  There is an NBC News report from Thursday night that there are at least 30 officials in the Trump White House who career officials recommended should not be given security clearances based on what the FBI turned up in the background checks. 

In at least 30 instances, NBC News reports that a Trump appointee in the White House, a single appointee overruled those negative recommendations and nevertheless granted security clearances to these people who are working in the White House.  The FBI and the CIA are key agencies for dealing with security clearances overall and for protecting the kind of information that people without security clearances aren`t supposed to see.  The heads of those agencies will be in open session tomorrow with the Senate intelligence committee presumably available to be asked about that scandal and whether or not they can justify 30 people working in the Trump White House who would have otherwise been turned down for security clearances, who were nevertheless cleared to be given access to that kind of information. 

As of yesterday, the Trump administration has gone forward and dropped sanctions on a Putin-linked Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska.  He was sanctioned because of Russia`s interference in the 2016 presidential election.  He is known to have extensive ties to Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort whose criminal case is very much ongoing at this moment. 

136 Republican members of the House, all the Democrats in the House, all the Democrats in the Senate, even 11 Republicans in the Senate, they all tried to block that lifting of sanctions on Deripaska by the Trump administration.  They fell two Republican votes short in the Senate.  And so, these sanctions have been lifted as of yesterday. 

Since they -- since they failed to stop the Trump administration from lifting these sanctions, it has been reported that Deripaska won`t have to give up effective control of his companies in order to escape these sanctions.  It`s been reported he may, in fact, benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars by this lifting of sanctions. 

Again, he was sanctioned with conjunction with the attack on our election.  That matter isn`t exactly settled, but now, he`s getting hundreds of millions of dollars in breaks from the Trump administration while the Manafort case alone persists in the courts. 

One Republican senator, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, has suggested that given the subsequent reporting about how well Oleg Deripaska is going to do from the Trump administration lifting sanctions on him, maybe the Senate should look at that again.  Maybe their vote to let the Trump administration lift sanctions on Deripaska was maybe a mistake and maybe they should revisit it.  That was a little late from Senator Mike Rounds.  But the sanctions now have officially been lifted.  We`ll see tomorrow if the intelligence chiefs have anything to say about the impact of that decision. 

NBC News also reported on Thursday that the Trump administration has apparently decided to not go ahead at all or at least to not go ahead yet with the sanctions on Russia.  They said they were going to impose for the nerve gas attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.  Remember that?  The Novichok attack?

It`s been nearly three months since the Trump administration announced that they would join our European allies in sanction Russia for that nerve agent attack on U.K. soil.  NBC News reporting on Thursday night that despite that announcement, no such sanctions have been forthcoming.  They announced it and they just didn`t do it.  Maybe they think if they wait long enough, nobody will notice they never followed through.  The intelligence chiefs can weigh in on that tomorrow in open session, as well. 

So, there is a lot going on right now.  I`ll tell you, tomorrow is going to be a little nuts.  I will also tell you, the next couple weeks are going to be wall to wall. 

And now, I got to tell you there is one more thing to watch for, it is a surprise move, a bipartisan move, and not from the usual suspects either.  It`s a surprise move that may have a major effect on the ultimate resolution of the Mueller investigation and on some of the strongest concerns that are raised about whether Trump`s Justice Department might be able to submarine or keep secret any final report that Mueller produces. 

Again, this was a surprise development in today`s news.  It was a bipartisan development and one of the lawmakers who made it happen joins us next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  It is a common beltway assumption that the special counsel Robert Mueller is going to make some kind of report about the Russia investigation.  Is it common enough assumption that one member of the president`s legal team -- well, one person adjacent to the president`s legal team recently suggested that the team would be allowed to edit the Mueller report before anybody else saw it.  I don`t think that`s how it works. 

The Senate is about to start voting on whether or not to confirm William Barr to be the next attorney general of the United States, a significant portion of Barr`s confirmation process, thus far, has centered on the idea of a Mueller report and Barr`s vague answers, thus far, as to whether or not he`d ever let such a report see the light of day. 

But honestly, we don`t know that`s how it`s going to happen.  An eventual Mueller report seems to be more of an assumption than certainty for now and if William Bar is going to be confirmed, so is the idea that Americans would ever get a chance to read any it, if one of those report does some day exist. 

But now, there is this, the Special Counsel Transparency Act, introduced today.  It would, quote, guarantee that every special counsel does a report complete with findings and evidence and that it be disclosed directly to Congress and the American people.  To be more specific, quote: The Special Counsel Transparency Act introduced today requires any special counsel produce a report to Congress at the conclusion of an investigation or within two weeks of a removal, transfer or resignation of a special counsel.  The report must include all factual findings and underlying evidence. 

Oh.  Well that would seem to cover it.  Here is the kicker: this transparency act that was just introduced today, this isn`t just a Democratic wish list kind of thing.  The co-sponsors of the measure about a Mueller report are Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal and also Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, both of whom serve on the Judiciary Committee and that means this might go somewhere. 

Joining us now is Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.  He is a Democratic senator.  He`s a member of the Judiciary Committee. 

Sir, thank you very much for being with us tonight. 


MADDOW:  So, this a -- I am not surprised to see you pursuing this because of the way you have talked about the need for transparency around the Russia investigation in general and with the special counsel`s office in particular.  I am -- I am surprised to see Senator Grassley as your co- sponsor here.  I wonder if you could give us some of the back story as to how you and he came to a meeting of the minds of this. 

BLUMENTHAL:  I`m proud that Senator Grassley, who is champion of whistle- blowers and transparency, has agreed to join this legislation and there is a really simple idea behind it, which is the public`s right to know.  He and I have worked on other legislation that involves transparency and full disclosure and of course, you`ve been a great champion of it.  So, while we may seem to be an odd couple, Grassley and me, so would perhaps you and Senator Grassley. 

MADDOW:  Oh, yes. 

BLUMENTHAL:  But I think he is heeding and hearing what many of us have heard and heeded from the American public.  A real desire that there be full disclosure when there is a special counsel who is appointed only in the most serious and significant circumstances involving grave violations of public trust and no assurance here that the public will eventually know because William Barr has been at best ambiguous on this topic. 

MADDOW:  And on the Judiciary Committee, you obviously have an absolutely key role to play in this whole part of this scandal and this investigation.  We know that the Judiciary Committee will be voting on whether or not to confirm Mr. Barr as the next attorney general, controversy and vagueness in the answers how he would treat any eventual Mueller report has been a big source of concern I think for a lot of people observing those hearings.  But with Senator Grassley as your co-sponsor here, I`m struck by the fact that he`s no longer the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he was until this new Congress started.  I know he`s still on the committee.  Lindsey Graham is going to be the chair of Judiciary going forward. 

Do you have any sense of how Lindsey Graham feels about this or whether or not former Chairman Grassley has talked to him about it? 

BLUMENTHAL:  I`m going to be talking to Senator Graham and others on the committee, but in my conversations so far, there has been a lot of receptivity, even tentative support among my Republican colleagues.  Of course, there has been among Democrats, as well.  But I think that it`s important to understand that the president`s allies ought to be in favor of full disclosure, as well, because they claimed that the facts and evidence would vindicate him. 

So, I`m hoping that there will be, in fact, strong bipartisan support.  In fact, William Barr has perhaps indicated in his written responses that he`ll be bound by the rules and regulations.  He may provide for full disclosure.  He should.  But his statute if passed would make it clear and compulsory and the public really needs and deserves it. 

MADDOW:  Senator, I have one last matter related to this that I want to ask you about and I`m not sure if you can answer this and if you can`t, I don`t mean to pry -- actually, I do mean to pry.  I don`t mean to push. 

But the -- one of the things that we`ve been watching from outside the Mueller investigation, trying to anticipate not only what he`s likely to do next but how his case is coming together as it relates to a larger scandal is that we`ve been watching as people are charged with lying to Congress.  We`ve seen that with Roger Stone.  We`ve seen that with Michael Cohen.  We saw reference to lies to Congress in the Sam Patten indictment, as well. 

One of the things we`ve been trying to track is whether or not witnesses who have testified in the Russia investigation and various committees before Congress, whether their testimony has been conveyed to the special counsel, whether Mueller`s office has received official transcripts from witness testimony in a way that might indicate that he`s considering potential similar charges against any other witnesses. 

Can you tell us if other Judiciary Committee witnesses have had their testimony sent over to Mueller, sent to the special counsel`s office as yet? 

BLUMENTHAL:  Very simply, Rachel, I`m barred from saying whether any testimony has been conveyed to the special counsel.  But I can tell you this much, I was in the room when a great many of these witnesses appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee behind closed doors.  I think many of them should be called back to testify in public and I hope that will be true of other congressional committees, as well, because behind closed doors, there was questions, serious issues concerning their truthfulness and that issue pertained particularly to Donald Trump Jr. in a number of contentions before our committee.

So, I think this common thread of lying to Congress and particularly to congressional committees may in snare a number of others potential targets in this special counsel`s investigation and become a matter of criminal action. 

MADDOW:  Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, sir, thank you.  I know this is going to be a very busy week this week and next week as well.  Thanks for taking time for us.  Much appreciated. 

BLUMENTHAL:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much to get to tonight.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Today, hundreds of thousands of federal workers were finally back at work after the 35-day government shutdown.  They came back to unanswered e-mails, backlogged paperwork, unsigned permits, unrenewed contracts, and got five weeks worth piled up, untouched messes to clean up. 

For National Park Service employees, this is a very literal cleanup.  And, of course, these returning government employees might have just three weeks to get it all squared away before it goes to heck again because the bill that ended the shutdown on Friday funds the government for only three weeks, only through February 15th, and the president, of course, appears perfectly happy to shut it all down again in order to once again try to get U.S. taxpayers to pay for a wall between the United States and Mexico.

The surprise ending here, I`ll tell you the spoiler right now, is that Democrats are not going to give the president money to build a wall between us and Mexico, never.  And maybe he shuts down the government all over again.  You can`t rule it down. 

But as this goes on, one thing we can see is that the politics of this are getting worse for the president by the day and now, they are getting very much closer to his family and to his business, and that story is next.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Ossining, New York, is in Westchester County, New York, about 40 miles north of New York.  It`s right on the Hudson River.  Ossining is a small town. It`s perhaps best known as the home of the infamous Sing Sing Prison.  It`s also right down the road from one of the president`s golf courses, which is why a handful of "Washington Post" reporters caught a commuter train up to there last week to chase this new scoop. 

Quote, Trump`s golf course employed undocumented workers and then fired them amid showdown over border wall.  Starting at 10:00 a.m. on January 18th, a human resources executive from the Trump Organization summoned about a dozen employees from the Westchester golf course into a room one at a time.  The workers say they were read a script from a piece of paper and then fired from their jobs.  One by one, a dozen times, it went like this. 


DEIRDRE ROSEN:  The club has conducted an internal audit of Employment Eligibility Verification forms, or I-9 forms, to ensure its ongoing compliance with the law.  This was not a government audit.  During the audit, the club reviewed the I-9 forms for all club employees regardless of citizenship status or national origin.  They concluded the document you submitted does not appear to be genuine. 

By law, the club cannot continue to employ an individual knowing that the individual is not authorized for employment.  Unfortunately, that means the club ended employment relationship with you today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated):  For them to tell you, from one day to another, you know what?  This is over, and that is it.  They change your life from one day to another without thinking.  How can they be so cruel to as to simply say that it is over after so many years of employment?


MADDOW:  "The Washington Post" reporting that the president`s golf club in Westchester, New York, has suddenly fired about half their entire winter staff because they were immigrants without eligible employment documentation.  Many of the employees who were fired say they had submitted fake green cards or Social Security numbers when they were first hired, but they say the president`s company never before questioned their status, and that seems to have changed suddenly for some reason. 

The Trump Organization now says they are making a, quote, broad effort to identify any employee who has given false and fraudulent documents to unlawfully gain employment.  Where identified, any individual will be terminated immediately. 

Now, new rule, not how it has been, the employees who were fired showed "The Washington Post" their pay stubs and uniforms and their employee of the month awards.  One employee who was fired had worked for the Trump Organization for 18 years, 18 years before he was canned by HR with no warning, no severance, no backup plan. 

Gabriel Sedano was a maintenance worker at the golf course.  He`s worked for the president`s family since 2005.  He tells "The Post" when I was fired last week, quote, I started to cry.  I told them they need to consider us.  I worked almost 15 years for them in this club.  I have given the best of myself to this job. 

Margarita Cruz, the woman from the video we just played, he has been a housekeeper at the Westchester Golf Club since 2011, eight years ago.  She`s a single mom with two kids.  She says in the eight years she worked there, the president`s company never before raised a question about her employment status. 

She told "The Post" when the Trump Organization started firing people, they felt, quote, like little lambs lined up for the slaughterhouse.  She said, quote: They said absolutely nothing.  They never said your Social Security number is bad or something is wrong, nothing, nothing, until right now. 

What changed? 

A Pulitzer prize-winning reporter who helped break the story joins us next. 


MADDOW:  This, again, is the headline from "The Washington Post."  Trump`s golf course employed undocumented workers and then fired them amid showdown over border wall. 

Joining us now is David Fahrenthold.  He`s reporter for "The Washington Post".  He co-author this piece with Joshua Partlow.

  Mr. Fahrenthold, thank you very much for being here. 


MADDOW:  How hard -- how hard was this story to report?  On the one hand, this is the president`s business.  You have reported extensively on the president`s affiliations, both his foundation and his business interests.  But on the other hand, these are people who have a lot to lose from being publicly recognized. 

FAHRENTHOLD:  Absolutely, and people who have spent their whole lives trying to avoid attention, just to work and not get a lot of attention. 

So, what happened is they turned to an attorney after they were all fired.  The attorney called us and Josh, the other reporter, and I went to Ossining, New York, and basically just introduced ourselves to them one day, talked about our backgrounds, what we did, what it would mean to go public in the paper, kind of the risks they would take, maybe the rewards that may be there for them. 

And we said, look, we`re going to go back to New York and wait.  You know, you call us when you have time to think about this if you really want to do it, thinking, you know, if you want to take the risk and go on the record, they called, we came back, and there were 14 people in the room, of which six wanted to go on the record. 


FAHRENTHOLD:  So they thought about this, and decided this was the best course.  They put a lot of faith in us. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the Trump Organization doing this about-face here, the clear allegation here is that there was never any attention to the fraudulent documents that were the basis of these people being hired in the first place, and the Trump Organization just now has started to care about those things. 

FAHRENTHOLD:  Well, if you look at the audit that they performed that caused them to fire these folks, the documents they looked at had been on file since they were hired, since 2015, since 2010, since 2000 in one case.  They have been sitting there this whole time, and they have been fraudulent the whole time.  And so, why hadn`t they been found before?  We asked, did you ever do an audit like this before, we didn`t get an answer. 

One interesting part of this is the E-Verify system, that`s something if you`re an employer, you can enroll in that.  It`s a federal government program that lets you instantly check your employees to see if they`re here in the country legally.  That`s sort of the easiest next step you can take.  The Trump Organization never enrolled in this course, didn`t enroll most courses in E-Verify.  So, they didn`t take that step along the way. 

MADDOW:  Have there been credible allegations that part of the hiring process for these folks may have been actually using other people affiliated with the Trump organization in order to obtain these fraudulent documents in the first place? 

FAHRENTHOLD:  Well, the one person we talked to who sort of described having an interaction with the Trump Org in which they said, get better fake documents.  One guy says he bought documents in Queens.  He presented them when he got hired, and they said, look, we want to hire you, but this is a bad fake, get a better fake.  He gets another one.  Brings it back. 

They say, no, this still isn`t real enough.  Go get another one.  On his third trip, he came back and they said, OK, that`s good enough.  That doesn`t sort of speak to an organization that cares about whether you`re legal or illegal, speaks to an organization that cares about going through the motions. 

MADDOW:  David Fahrenthold, reporter for "The Washington Post," it`s good to see you.  Congratulations on the story.

FAHRENTHOLD:   Good to see you, too. 

MADDOW:  Thanks.

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


MADDOW:  One last thing before we go tonight.  I want to go back to one thing, we heard from our earlier guest, Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.  I asked Senator Blumenthal a question tonight here on the air, and I think he may have made some news in his answer.  I asked him about people facing criminal charges for lying to Congress. 

I just want to play you back what he said just moments ago. 


BLUMENTHAL:  Because behind closed doors, their arose in my mind, very clearly, questions, serious issues concerning their truthfulness, and that issue pertained particularly to Donald Trump Jr.  And a number of his contentions before our committee, so I think this common thread of lying to Congress and particularly to congressional committees may ensnare a number of other potential targets in this special counsel`s investigation. 


MADDOW:  We have seen Michael Cohen and now Roger Stone both charged with lying to Congress.  Senator Blumenthal on our air tonight saying he believes the same may also -- same fate may also await the president`s son, Donald Trump Jr.  Just wanted to make sure we underscored that, and you knew that happened on our air tonight. 

We will be back again tonight. 

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".  Lawrence I know has a big interview tonight with Senator Elizabeth Warren joining him live. 

Hello, Lawrence.

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