CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Michelle Goldberg and Waleed Shahid, thank you 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. Much appreciated.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining this hour.
A few months ago in the summer of 2018, a guy you`ve probably never heard of got a subpoena, his name is Andrew Miller. He is not a famous person. In the 2016 presidential campaign, for a time he worked for Roger Stone.
And because of that affiliation with Roger Stone, Andrew Miller last year got a subpoena. He was subpoenaed to hand over documents and communications that he had related to Roger Stone, Roger Stone and WikiLeaks. And the DNC and the stuff that was stolen from the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign by Russian government hackers.
Andrew Miller complied with that request for documents and communications. He did hand stuff over to the FBI. But when he was also subpoenaed to testify about those same matters, to come to Washington, D.C. and testify in person to the grand jury convened by the special counsel, to that subpoena, Andrew Miller said no.
And the reason anybody has paid any attention to Andrew Miller`s case since then is because his no, his refusal to testify to the grand jury, that has become a legal vehicle for conservative legal groups who are using Mr. Miller`s case as a way to try to attack and derail the special counsel`s investigation overall.
Andrew Miller saying no to that subpoena, him subsequently being held in contempt of court, him risking jail time for refusing to testify to the grand jury, that is the way some conservative legal groups are trying to challenge the constitutionality of Mueller`s investigation. His case is the way specifically they are trying to get the Mueller investigation before the U.S. Supreme Court because they hope they might before the Supreme Court have a chance of nullifying the whole Russia investigation. They hope they might be able to get Mueller`s appointment thrown out and they are trying to press those constitutional questions about the appointment of Robert Mueller and the conduct of this investigation using Andrew Miller`s little case.
And that`s why anybody has been interested at all in this one little offshoot of the Russia investigation and the special counsel`s work. This part, again, that relates to a guy you`ve never heard of who is called Andrew Miller. And his role, the fact that his case was being sort of used as a vehicle to challenge the constitutionality of Mueller`s office, that was really the only reason to be interested in his part of the case at all until now. As you know, President Trump`s longtime friend and longtime political adviser Roger Stone, he was indicted a few days ago.
Mr. Stone was arrested in south Florida at his home. He had his first court appearance in federal court in Florida on Friday. But Mr. Stone is being charged in federal court in Washington, D.C., and so today was the day he was actually arraigned on the seven felony charges that he`s facing and he was arraigned in the court where he will go on trial in D.C.
As a legal matter, Roger Stone`s arraignment today was straightforward. It was formal. The -- a little comity of errors around his legal counsel, neither of the lawyers who are representing him are admitted to the bar in Washington, D.C., and they didn`t submit the proper paperwork to the court so that they could legally represent Roger Stone at this arraignment today.
We learned about that when the court dinged them for it yesterday and said, hey, you need to get your paperwork in. They screwed that up with the court a couple of different ways yesterday on the eve of the arraignment. Then, this morning, they blew through the court-imposed deadline. They were an hour and a half late in finally submitting their paperwork to the court which would allow them to represent their client.
So, it has not been an auspicious beginning for Roger Stone`s legal team in terms of the way they`re screwing up, even the basic question of whether they`re allowed to represent him, just getting that basic paperwork in.
When it came to the actual arraignment today, though, it was fairly straightforward. They waived the actual reading of the indictment. The prosecution`s side of the aisle included both attorneys from the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. and attorneys from Robert Mueller`s office, the special counsel`s office. Jeannie Rhee, one of the prosecutors who works for Mueller explained to the judge today that Mueller`s team and the D.C. U.S. attorney, they will be jointly trying this case against Roger Stone. So that was interesting. That was sort of the most interesting thing that happened today in court.
On the defense side, Roger Stone`s defense lawyers entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf to the seven felony charges. Unless that changes, that will mean that we should expect there will be a criminal trial for Roger Stone on the seven felony trials -- seven felony charges.
Now, we don`t know when exactly that would happen if his case does, in fact, proceed to trial. We do know that Roger Stone will be back in court again on Friday of this week for what they call a status hearing. So, with that sort of proceed the way it should have today, a fairly formal thing.
But here`s this great detail about Andrew Miller, right, this otherwise obscure figure in this little part of the Russia investigation who we haven`t been paying too much attention to up until this point. I want to credit two CNN reporters for this. Sara Murray and Kaitlan Collins at CNN are the ones who recognized on this threat and pulled on it with Andrew Miller`s defense lawyer.
Because it turns out under Justice Department rules, once a grand jury has indicted somebody that grand jury is not allowed to keep collecting more evidence randomly about that person who they`ve already brought an indictment against, right? Grand juries serve a specific purpose. Prosecutors give evidence and witness temperature to a grand jury, the grand jury then deliberates on that evidence and decides whether or not that evidence is enough to bring charges against someone, to bring an indictment against a defendant.
But then that`s it. I mean, once that is done, once an indictment is brought on the say so of the grand jury, the grand jury`s role is over when it comes to that defendant. That`s the way it works in terms of how grand juries get used. So in the case of Roger Stone, the indictment that was unsealed last week that resulted in him getting arrested, that resulted in him getting arraigned today, that indictment against Roger Stone, that was approved by a grand jury and once the grand jury signed off on the indictment of Roger Stone, technically, that grand jury should be done with anything having to do with Roger Stone. They served their purpose.
The Roger Stone evidence they heard resulted in a Roger Stone indictment. They`re done. Grand juries are a tool that prosecutors use for a specific thing. They evaluate evidence and testimony, decide whether or not it adds up to enough to justify an indictment. After the indictment against a defendant, there is no reason for that grand jury to hear anything else related to that defendant.
And here`s the really interesting part. Remember, this guy Andrew Miller, the sort of obscure guy who is fighting this subpoena, what he was asked about, what his subpoena is about is information that Mr. Miller allegedly had that pertains to Roger Stone and Roger Stone`s contact with WikiLeaks and the information that the Russian government stole from the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign during the presidential election of 2016. That`s what he was subpoenaed about.
All of that stuff was in the Roger Stone indictment, right? Roger Stone is charged with seven felony counts for lying to Congress about his contact with WikiLeaks and for trying to persuade another witness to lie to Congress or to not testify to Congress on these same issues pertaining to WikiLeaks trafficking the information that Russia stole from the Democrats and from the Clinton campaign. All that stuff that miller was asked about, that`s the stuff that ended up in the Stone indictment.
So, when that indictment was filed against Roger Stone, the lawyer who is the defense lawyer for this guy Andrew Miller, he had reason to believe, well, OK, they`ve indicted Roger Stone now. That`s what they wanted to ask my client about. That must mean this whole thing involving my client is done, because clearly the grand jury is done here and they did it without my client`s testimony. They wanted my client to testify about Roger Stone and WikiLeaks.
Well, Roger Stone and WikiLeaks indictment is done and dusted. Roger Stone, we all saw him get arrested. He`s in court. It`s done. The grand jury can`t keep collecting more evidence about that defendant if the indicting part of their job is done here, right? So, hey, Andrew Miller`s off the hook, right?
No. It turns out he`s not. Oh, really? Tell me more. Sara Murray and Kaitlan Collins at CNN report that Andrew Miller`s lawyer, his defense lawyer contacted the special counsel`s office after Roger Stone got indicted to act whether Andrew Miller would still be needed, whether they would still want him to testify before the grand jury, and according to CNN, the special counsel`s office told Andrew Miller`s attorney, actually, yes, we still want your client`s testimony before this grand jury.
Andrew Miller`s defense lawyer says the special counsel`s office told him that they consider this, quote, still a live case.
Well, all grand juries do is indict people. If they`ve got a live case, that means -- I mean, if the grand jury is still working on this, still taking more testimony on this after Roger Stone has already been indicted, if this is still a live case before that grand jury, that means they`re still working on another potential indictment related to Roger Stone and WikiLeaks and what Russia stole from the Democrats. And it could mean that it`s just that Roger Stone is going to get indicted again, right? It could just be more indictments for him.
There could be some potential superseding indictment coming for Roger Stone on top of the seven felony counts he`s already looking at. It could be that. That could be the next potential indictment they`re working toward.
But it could also mean that somebody else is potentially looking at getting indicted by the same grand jury, an indictment that would derive at least in part from the same generally set of facts concerning Roger Stone and his contact with WikiLeaks and the information stolen by the Russian government from the Democrats, because that`s what Andrew Miller has been asked about. That`s what he supposedly needs to tell the grand jury about, which means the grand jury is still working on that.
This little Andrew Miller case has always been a weird outlier in the Russia scandal, but what that case has just taught us is that in all likelihood, Roger Stone does not stand alone or at least this Roger Stone indictment does not stand alone. There is something else that grand jury is working on. There is something else, meaning another indictment that may be coming from this same grand jury that relates to the same basic set of facts.
Now, grand jury proceedings are secret and the secrecy of the grand jury is a serious thing. We do not know more about what`s going on before that grand jury than we can glean from circumstantial evidence like this, right? In terms of what exactly they`re considering or what they might do next. But because of something that happened here on this show live last night, I feel like it would be -- I feel like I would be remised not to note that the one other person associated with the Trump campaign besides Roger Stone, who admits to having months of communication with WikiLeaks during the campaign, including specifically communications about what kind of anti-Hillary Clinton information WikiLeaks might be dropping during the campaign that might help Donald Trump`s chances at winning, the only other person besides Roger Stone we know of who had those months of communications with WikiLeaks is this man -- the president`s eldest son and namesake, Donald Trump Jr.
His repeated messages with WikiLeaks were obtained by reporter Julia Ioffe at "The Atlantic Magazine". She reported at the time that messages between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks were also turned over to congressional investigators. These communications between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks reportedly started during the presidential campaign and continued after the election and after the inauguration, until at least midsummer 2017, which would be long after even Trump hand-picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo was publicly describing WikiLeaks as a hostile intelligence service that has, quote, often abetted state actors like Russia. Donald Trump Jr. was still communicating directly with WikiLeaks, even after those kinds of public claims about Mike Pompeo, even after everything we learned about how WikiLeaks worked with the Russian government to help them interfere in our election during 2016.
Now, we know that at least two of the three congressional committees that Donald Trump testified before -- Donald Trump Jr. testified before asked him detailed questions about his interactions with WikiLeaks. We know that he was asked detailed questions about his communications with WikiLeaks in the Senate Judiciary Committee because that testimony was released publicly, so we can see that transcript of that testimony. "The Washington Post" also reported that Donald Trump Jr.`s communications with WikiLeaks were the subject of extensive discussion when he also testified behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee.
Now, that transcript we don`t have. That was closed-door testimony. And we do not know if Donald Trump Jr. got himself into any sort of trouble in terms of false statements when it came to his testimony before any of these committees, on WikiLeaks or on anything. But we do know that Roger Stone has just been indicted for lying to Congress about his contact with WikiLeaks and it appears that the grand jury that indicted Roger Stone for those seven felony counts is still at work and still taking evidence toward some potential fume indictment that touches on those same basic sets of facts.
And, again, I feel I would be remised to not point out that there is now a long trail of fairly insistent claims from multiple members of Congress on multiple committees in Congress that there were in fact problems with the testimony of Donald Trump Jr. And if we are now at the part of the Mueller investigation and the Russia investigation where people are going to be charged for lying to Congress now, like we`ve seen with Cohen and like we`ve seen with Stone, members of Congress are telling us now insistently that if there`s anybody who should be worried about that, anybody of all the people who testify before them, really, it`s the president`s eldest son who should be most worried.
This, for example, was Senator Richard Blumenthal, who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, here on this show last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: 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 arose, in my mind, very clearly questions, serious issues concerning their truthfulness and that issue pertained particularly to Donald Trump Jr. in a number of his contentions before our committee. So I think this common thread of lying to Congress and particularly congressional committees may ensnare a number of other potential targets in the special counsel`s investigation and become a matter of criminal action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut speaking here on this show last night.
Now, I did not ask him a question about Donald Trump Jr. I asked Senator Blumenthal whether the special counsel had reviewed testimony from anybody else who was a witness before his committee, anybody else who the senator perceives might now be in trouble for lying to Congress, now that Michael Cohen has been charged with lying to Congress, now that Roger Stone has been charged with lying to Congress. And Senator Blumenthal volunteered, yes, Donald Trump Jr. is the one named person who should really think about having something to worry about on that score.
And this is not the first time that a member of Congress has suggested that after hearing testimony from Donald Trump Jr. Meaning these are not people throwing that out there because they have feelings about Donald Trump Jr., they`re in a position to know because they heard his testimony.
In May, for example, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware sent a letter to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, then Chuck Grassley, saying that he believed Donald Trump Jr. may have lied in his judiciary committee testimony about contacts with another cooperating witness in the Mueller investigation, a mysterious character named George Nader, who is reportedly representing Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates at the time he was meeting with people from the Trump campaign and the Trump transition. Senator Coons explicitly raising the prospect that Donald Trump Jr. lied under oath in his Judiciary Committee testimony about those contacts.
Then when Michael Cohen pled guilty in late November to lying to the House Intelligence Committee on his work on Trump Tower Moscow and the contacts that project entailed between him and officials at the Kremlin, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jim Himes, congressman from Connecticut, came on this show and said while he couldn`t comment on the specifics of closed-door testimony before that committee, he said other people who testified to the committee about Trump Tower Moscow testified in a way that was effectively congruent with what Michael Cohen had told them under oath. That becomes a problem when Michael Cohen then admits that his story to that committee was a lie.
He pled guilty to a felony for giving false testimony to that committee about Trump Tower Moscow. Anybody else who gave congruent testimony on Trump Tower Moscow may presumably also have lied to that committee in the same way that Cohen admits he did.
And now, today, this afternoon on MSNBC, California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who is a veteran member of the Intelligence Committee, she was speaking with Katy Tur on our air here this afternoon, and she put a very fine point on it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: Are you concerned that anybody else lied to your committee?
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Ii am concerned that other people lied to the committee, and I wouldn`t be surprised if we find out through the Mueller investigation and report that he has identified others.
TUR: Who potentially do you think could have lied?
SPEIER: Well, I`m not going to go there with you right at the moment, but I think you could probably figure out people within the Trump organization who have testified before our committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Trump Organization is the Trump business, and not that many people from the Trump Organization have testified before that committee, the House Intelligence Committee, at least that we know of. One of them is Michael Cohen, who has now pled guilty to lying to the committee.
Another one is Donald Trump Jr., who, again, we know was asked at least about his WikiLeaks contacts before that committee. He was also asked about the Trump Tower Moscow project by that committee. There are now two other people who are charged with felonies now for lying to Congress about those two issues, about WikiLeaks and about Trump Tower Moscow.
What are the odds that the president`s eldest son might be in the same kind of pickle based on the testimony that he gave under oath? So, we`re going to speak with Congresswoman Jackie Speier a little bit later on this hour. We will get a chance to ask her about that.
But if the president`s eldest son is in a legal pickle here, there`s a couple of things to consider. One is that we really don`t know how the president himself might react to that kind of legal jeopardy for an immediate family member, for his namesake and eldest son, just in terms of the human psychology here about the president and his defense and what he sees as a red line or something that may provoke him to do things he hasn`t otherwise done, if his eldest son is in legal jeopardy here, we just don`t know what to expect from the president on that front. Also, you should know that there`s a little bit of a logistical hurdle that Republicans in Congress have thrown up in terms of how this made proceed, and this pertains to Donald Trump Jr. potentially being in trouble because of his testimony. It also may affect other witnesses who are in the same kind of potential jeopardy.
One of the things we`ve been reporting on for the past few days is the fact that although the new Congress is in session and committees are holding hearings and votes are happening, the Republicans have not yet announced which members of Congress they`re going to put on the intelligence committee. They`ve announced the membership for like 23 other committees but not intelligence.
Well, if the special counsel Robert Mueller and his grand jury do have an interest in looking at certified transcripts of the testimony of Donald Trump Jr., or any other witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee, the special counsel`s office can only bring legal action on the basis of someone`s potentially false testimony if they have an official transcript of that testimony, and they can only get an official transcript of that testimony once the intelligence committee meets and votes to release that official transcript, votes that the transcript can be transmitted to the special counsel. That closed-door testimony, the transcripts thereof, that`s property of the committee and the committee has to vote to release it before the special counsel can get it and the special counsel needs an official transcript before they can take any legal action on that basis.
Well, the committee can`t meet to take a vote to release anyone`s transcript until they have all their members, right? Until the membership of the committee is set. And so far, Republicans won`t appoint their members, and so, nothing can happen on the intelligence committee whatsoever.
Now, we reported on that apparent delay last week. The Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked about it on "Meet the Press" this weekend. He said basically it was a logistical snafu. It was communication problems in terms of when the House speaker`s election -- he said the Republican members would be named very soon. Definitely this week.
We`ve been through Monday, now been through Tuesday, those members still have not been named. Congressman Adam Schiff has said that the first order of business once his committee is formally convened is that the very first thing they will do is vote to send these transcripts over to Robert Mueller for his review. But it will take about three days after they take the vote. And tick-tock, they can`t even take the vote yet. So far, they cannot get anywhere near that first order of business while Republicans continue to delay seating their members.
So, if Donald Trump Jr. or anybody else who testified to House Intelligence is potentially in legal trouble for having lied to that committee the way that Roger Stone is now in legal trouble, the way that Michael Cohen is now in legal trouble, House Republicans are earthquake effectively protecting those witnesses as long as they don`t seat their members on that committee so that committee cannot release its official transcripts. I don`t know how long House Republicans can keep that up, but they`re stretching it already.
More ahead. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Senator, I would personally -- I would think we ought to talk about these kinds of things in a closed session.
GEN. ROBERT ASHLEY, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY DIRECTOR: We may be able to get that to you in the closed session this afternoon.
GINA HASPEL, CIA DIRECTOR: Senator, I believe -- and I can go into more detail this afternoon.
COATS: Well, Senator, clearly this is a sensitive issue and it`s an issue that we ought to talk about this afternoon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But this afternoon we can talk a little bit more about some of the things we have seen.
HASPEL: I think I`ll leave it there for now and we can elaborate this afternoon. I`ll ask if General Ashley would like to add something.
ASHLEY: I`ll say maybe we can get into some more details this afternoon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Where do you get tickets to the afternoon?
The intelligence chiefs did go into a closed session with the Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon, presumably at which point they talked about all the good stuff. They spent the morning saying they wouldn`t talk about anything in open session.
But while the House Intelligence Committee can`t get going yet because Republicans refuse to announce who their members are for that committee, the Intelligence Committee in the Senate is in full swing. This was the Senate Intelligence Committee today, an oversight hearing about the intelligence community. They have the directors of the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the DIA, the director of national intelligence, all sitting there together, all testifying together at this hearing.
And for everything they said we can`t talk about that here in open session, the things they did say were like a parallel universe corrective to what you have been hearing from the Trump administration otherwise. The intelligence chiefs today said, no, North Korea isn`t planning on giving up their nuclear weapons, regardless of -- regardless of what you might be hearing from the president about that. And, no, Iran is not trying to make a nuclear bomb right now, regardless of what you might be hearing from the president on that. And, yes, they said, Iran is actually in compliance with the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, regardless of what you`ve heard from the president on that. And no, ISIS is not defeated, regardless.
But for all of that substance and for the little bit of fireworks at today`s open hearing, if today`s hearing did have a theme, it really was that all the good stuff, all the super pointed questions, all the controversial matters couldn`t be discussed in open session. All that stuff would happen later today behind closed doors in a classified setting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: According to press reports, Donald Trump met privately with Vladimir Putin and no one in the U.S. government has the full story about what was discussed. Director Haspel and Director Coats, would this put you in a disadvantage position in terms of understanding Russia`s efforts to advance its agenda against the United States?
COATS: Well, Senator, clearly this is a sensitive issue and it`s an issue we ought to talk about this afternoon. I look forward to discussing that in a closed session.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So he doesn`t get his answer and we don`t know what happened behind closed doors when they went back to that issue this afternoon in closed session. But that turns out to have been a very prescient question from Senator Ron Wyden there.
"The Washington Post" a couple of weekends ago reported that President Trump has taken multiple meetings in person with Russia`s president, Vladimir Putin, in which the president -- our president has ensured that there are no other U.S. officials present for those discussions, including at least one instance where the president seized the notes from his U.S. translator and ordered that translator to not discuss with anyone, anything that he had heard at that Trump-Putin meeting.
So, "The Washington Post" reported on these unusual meetings a couple of weekends ago. They described meetings of this type between Trump and Putin in Germany in Hamburg in 2017, also in Helsinki last year. But you may remember late last year, right around the time Michael Cohen was pleading guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project and his communications with the Kremlin, right around that time, just after Thanksgiving, late November, the White House announced that President Trump`s next planned meeting with Vladimir Putin was being called off. President Trump would be going to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the G20 meeting, they announced, but he would not be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at that event because of a skirmish that was under way between Russian and Ukrainian forces in disputed waters off the Ukrainian coast.
Now, when the White House made the announcement that the meeting in Buenos Aires between Trump and Putin was off, when the White House announced that The Kremlin at the time seemed to dispute that assertion from the White House. They gave a sort of strange series of statements around that time, saying basically as far as they were concerned, the White House might think the meeting was off, but the Kremlin was pretty convinced that Putin and Trump would still meet in Buenos Aires.
Well, this afternoon while that Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was under way, we learned that the Kremlin was right about that after all, because this afternoon the "Financial Times" published this.
Quote: Donald Trump sat down with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in November with no translator or note taker from the U.S. side to record the dialogue between the leaders, according to people who had direct knowledge of the encounter or who were briefed on it. The discussions between the U.S. and Russian presidents occur at the 19th century Colon Theater in the Argentine capital. Mr. Trump was accompanied by only Melania Trump, his wife, but no staff, while Mr. Putin, of course, was flanked by his Russian translator. The Russians got to have somebody there. For us, it was just Mr. and Mrs. Trump. The four of them sat at a table and were among the last to leave the event.
Quote: The decision to meet Mr. Putin and potentially discuss sensitive matters without advisers or a White House translator just two months ago could trigger new alarms about Mr. Trump and his relationship with the Kremlin.
So, "Financial Times" today is reporting on yet another instance, this one just a few weeks ago, right? Late November. Where the president once again sent all American officials and any U.S. translator away so that he could talk to Putin personally with no other Americans there to make a record of it and no U.S. officials there to be able to brief anybody else on what happened.
When "The Washington Post" first reported on this pattern by the president, veteran U.S. diplomat Strobe Talbott was quoted by "The Post" saying that Trump`s approach to these meetings with Putin was not only unusual by historical standards, Talbott described it as, quote, outrageous. He said this type of meeting, one-on-one meetings with no U.S. officials present, quote, gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump.
In light of this metastasizing Russia scandal, and it`s still unfurling consequences and now what seems like the real possibility that the president`s immediate family may be a point of concern when it comes to this scandal itself, and its legal consequences, at least when it comes to his eldest son, I mean, what do you do as a national security matter with the fact that the president apparently still insists on maintaining effectively a secret line of communication with the Kremlin, a secret line of communication that is outside any other U.S. channels with no U.S. officials knowing what`s going on between him and the Russian president, between him and the Russian government, while he is serving as president.
He is still doing this even as recently as several weeks ago while all these things are breaking open in terms of the Russia scandal and his own family`s potential legal liability in it.
We follow this as a political scandal, as a legal scandal, as a national security matter. What do you do with that?
A senior national security adviser to President Obama joins us live next.
MADDOW: Joining us now is Ben Rhodes. He`s the former deputy national security adviser to President Obama.
Mr. Rhodes, I really appreciate you making the time tonight. Thanks for being here.
BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: It`s great to be with you.
MADDOW: So I wanted to get your take on this latest reporting from "Financial Times" today. They`re reporting as recently as several weeks ago, President Trump took another sort of off the books meeting with the Russian president, with once again no U.S. officials present, no U.S. translator and we knew he had done this in the past. He`s apparently continuing to do this, and I just wanted to know what you think about this from a national security perspective.
RHODES: Rachel, I think it`s terrifying, to tell you the truth. A lot of times when we were in government, President Obama would have to go into what we call a one-on-one meeting with President Putin. But by one-on-one, we`d always someone in the room, usually the national security adviser. That person was there to be able to read out to the other officials in the government what took place, what was discussed in that meeting.
The fact that Donald Trump wants nobody else in these meetings, wants no record of these meetings, even from the translator, suggests that those discussions are of no use to the out to the officials in the government what took place, what was discussed in that meeting. The fact that Donald Trump wants nobody else in the meetings, wants no record of the meetings from the translator suggested those discussions are of no use to the U.S. government. They are of use to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. So that raises the question what are they discussing.
And when you hear about ideas like Donald Trump wants to pull out of NATO, even though none of the advisors as wacky as they are would offer that position, it makes you wonder whether or not the seeds are being planted in those meetings.
MADDOWE: Today, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was asked about this. Actually, I think before the "Financial Times" reporting came out. It was about the previous report of the president taking these meetings with Putin and said it`s a sensitive issue and preferred to discuss it in a closed session. I wonder, again, this is, I`m sort of asking a hypothetical because we don`t think anything like this ahs ever happened with a president before, but can the intelligence community or government more broadly take any steps to sort of mitigate the kind of thing you say here is terrifying to mitigate the worst potential implications of what is happening here?
RHODES: Well, the principle thing is the investigation taking place. We know, Rachel, there`s a pattern of this overtime. You`ll recall the reporting that during the transition, Jared Kushner was trying to set up a secure communications link with Moscow. And that`s part of what raised concerns in the U.S. intelligence committee, why would the president`s son- in-law want to be able to talk to the Kremlin without anybody else doing what is being discussed? We`ve seen a pattern of them wanting to have these conversations.
We`ve seen the fact that President Trump is seeking out Putin at all of these venues, right? He knows it`s being too political disruptive for him to have Putin come to the United States for a summit, which he wanted to do. He knows also that when he calls Putin on the phone from the White House, somebody is listening in, a White House operator in the Situation Room connects that call.
So, what does he do? When he goes to summits like the G20 or other summits where Putin is present, every single time we know he has sought out this kind of one on one encounter where the two of them discuss things alone, which is probably deeply worrying to the intelligence community.
And part of what`s chilling here, Rachel, is what the community knows about the meetings is probably from their collection on the Russians. So, in other words, our own intelligence community is probably learning more about what is discussed in the meeting with our own president by the intelligence collection of the Russians. I`m not revealing anything in terms of sources and methods, but obviously, we try to understand what the Russians are thinking.
So, I really what we have here is a president who has chosen to freeze out his own national security team, freeze out the American people. They are the ones who are losing in this, floating all kinds of terrifying ideas like the United States upending NATO, upending the liberal order that we built over many decades. The only recourse for this, Rachel, is the Mueller investigation because that gets at what are the motivations that would lead President Trump to want to do this unprecedented thing and have these kinds of interactions with the leader of an adversarial nation.
MADDOW: Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security advisor under President Trump -- Ben, thank you very much for being with us tonight. It`s been too long since you`ve been here. Thanks for making time.
RHODES: Thanks, Rachel. Always good talking to you.
MADDOW: I will say, in the light of the way Ben Rhodes just put that, consider that while the president has taken great pains to make sure there are no Americans in the meetings with him and Vladimir Putin, there`s no American officials, there`s no U.S. translators, nobody from the U.S. government getting any readout in every single of these meetings we know about, I think, they have taken no such pains to make sure there wasn`t somebody there from the Russian government. Putin always has got somebody there. The Russian government read in all of this. It`s just being kept from our own government and from us.
More to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today, the chairs of four committees in the Democratic controlled House put out a statement criticizing President Trump`s Treasury Department for lifting sanctions this past weekend on companies linked to a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska, even as Deripaska and his family and his associates will definitely still own a majority stake in those companies. The Democrats are also asking Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, hey, what was the rush with lifting these sanctions? They asked Mnuchin to give them a little more time to review this deal in light of the holidays and the government shutdown happening right after the deal was announced. Mnuchin, though, said, no, they couldn`t have any further time.
And now, apart from the Democratic committee chairs raising these concerns, a member of the House Intelligence Committee is raising another major red flag, which will curl your hair. Congresswoman Jackie Speier has just sent this letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking about reports of his, Mnuchin`s, financial relationship with a business partner of Oleg Deripaska.
A business partner of Deripaska who owns a big stake in Deripaska`s companies and who will benefit from the lifting of these sanctions on Deripaska`s companies. Congresswoman Jackie Speier is asking Mnuchin to please explain his business dealings with a Soviet born American billionaire named Leonid Blavatnik.
Congresswoman Speier called Mnuchin`s involvement in deciding to lift the sanctions when that will have a financial effect on Leonid Blavatnik, quote, a deeply troubling matter and a conflict of interest. And that`s a big deal allegation, right? Saying a treasury secretary out a personal conflict of interest in a matter like this.
Treasury has answered this charge twice. Check this out. The Treasury Department acknowledges that Mnuchin and Blavatnik do know each other personally, though as for the reporting last year that Mnuchin, quote, frequented Mr. Blavatnik`s yacht before becoming treasury secretary, the Treasury Department insisted that is not true. They said today Mnuchin attended only one party on Blavatnik`s yacht, thank you very much. That`s not many parties.
And the Treasury Department told "The New York Times" this afternoon that Mnuchin and Blavatnik had, quote, no business relationship though by this evening and a follow-0up response that had become, quote, no direct business relationship.
Important revision there. Right. Got it. You sure that`s the last one?
Tonight, "The Times" reports that Leonid Blavatnik`s company may have already made something like $800 million just from the lifting of sanctions this weekend, $800 million. But the involvement of a treasury secretary that partied on this guy`s yacht, just the one time, no direct business relationship but maybe a business relationship.
Just astonishing allegations from Congresswoman Jackie Speier. She joins us next.
MADDOW: California Congresswoman Jackie Speier has been quoted on this show tonight twice already. First for her comments today that unspecified witnesses from the Trump Organization who have testified before the House Intelligence Committee may have a problem legally in terms of potential liability for lying to Congress. Also, Congresswoman Speier has started a bit of a fire storm over allegations she has now made concerning Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the possibility he may have had a financial conflict of interest when it came to his decision to lift sanctions on a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska and businesses associated with him.
Joining us now is California Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
Congresswoman, thank you very much for being with us. You have been like the table of contents to our show this evening.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you.
MADDOW: Let me ask you first -- tell us what your concern is the possibility that the treasury secretary has a financial conflict of interest with the lifting of these sanctions?
SPEIER: So, Steve Mnuchin sold his interest in his RatPac Hollywood studio to Leonid Blavatnik. Leonid Blavatnik is a significant shareholder in Rusal, which is Deripaska`s company. That company once sanctions were first imposed, dropped like a stone. Once the sanctions were lifted, it increased by some 24 percent in terms of the stock price.
I think very strongly that Secretary Mnuchin should have recused himself or certainly should have asked the Ethics Office whether or not he should have been involved in the negotiations on the sanctions relative to Deripaska and the lifting of those sanctions.
MADDOW: Since you have been pressing the Treasury Department on this, have you been able to get with any clarity, any sense of whether or not he did seek any ethics advice or whether his potential recusal was ever evaluated by the department?
SPEIER: So, that question was posed in the letter I sent to him and we haven`t received a response yet. You know, what`s most concerning about all of this, Congress passes legislation imposing sanctions last July. Nine months pass and nothing happens, and we start complaining about that.
And all of a sudden, there are sanctions imposed on Deripaska and his companies except they`re postponed. They`re postponed for more than 30 days, which is normal. They`re postponed until September. And that allowed Deripaska to do all kinds of things relative to his ownership interests.
And so, for all intents and purposes, the sanctions were only in place for about four months.
MADDOW: The thing that is striking from an outsider`s perspective and someone not an expert on these things is just that Deripaska seems to be such a dangling thread when it comes to the Mueller investigation, when it comes to his relationship to -- just for example, the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, whose criminal case is still ongoing. It seems like an odd time for the U.S. government to be taking steps related to Deripaska that would have such a massive financial impact on him.
Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, back bench senator, has suggested since these sanctions were lifted, maybe the Senate might have a little buyer`s remorse with passing up the opportunity to block the Trump administration from lifting these sanctions. Is this the sort of thing that could be revisited, that could be undone?
SPEIER: I think you probably could undue this. Certainly, the House voted overwhelmingly to not lift the sanctions. The Senate was only three members short of also confirming that the sanctions should not be removed. So, I think there`s a means by which we could reinstate those sanctions.
MADDOW: Congresswoman, I also wanted to ask you about your assertion today to my colleague Katy Tur, that people who testified on the House Intelligence Committee from the Trump Organization may have trouble when it comes to potential legal liability for lying to Congress. And I know that you can`t tell exact details of testimony that happened behind closed doors, but can you tell us whether you feel those matters will be followed up, whether those transcripts, for example, will be ultimately conveyed to Robert Mueller or otherwise be adjudicated the way they need to be?
SPEIER: So the transcripts, it is certainly the intention of the committee to make those transcripts available to the special counsel. They have to be reviewed for any classified information that cannot be released, but that certainly is the long-term interest. I also think that it`s very important for the intelligence committee to be reorganized. And unfortunately, Kevin McCarthy and Republicans are slow walking the appointment of their representatives on the committee, which is frustrating our effort to get started.
MADDOW: Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, thank you so much for being here tonight, ma`am. Nice to have you here.
SPEIER: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: It`s neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night staves these couriers from their swift completion of their realms. But negative dozens of degrees plus the wind chill, Midwest tonight is bracing for double digit temperatures tomorrow as an arctic air mass brings really, really frigid weather. And it is so cold, they are calling off the U.S. mail.
"The St. Paul Pioneer Press" reporting tonight that postal operations are being suspended in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, Western Wisconsin and portions of Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. That never happens. If you weren`t already taking this seriously already, take this seriously.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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